Why Teacher Education is Important and How to Make It Better

Teacher education is more important today than it has been in half a century.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is evident by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the desire to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Apple, 2008).

Robertson (2008) argues that teacher education institutions need to be sustained as autonomous from social and political centers, which would turn teacher preparation toward their own interests.  The social and political context that we find ourselves in today has implications for science teacher educators, and especially if the focus of teaching is on experiential learning.   As teacher educators, we need to think about how these realities influence our work: the polarized political climate, the educational assessment and accountability movements, and challenges to schools of education (Robertson, 2008, Cody, 2012, Hassard, 2012).

Anthony Cody, a science educator and educational policy writer, recently talked about the place of teacher education in American society:

Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of “obsession over data” is what our education “reformers” apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.

There is a new cohort group of teacher educators in the USA and other countries that approach teacher education based on clinical and experiential theories of learning.  Although the idea is not really new, there is a new and growing number of teacher educators who now have a strong research base upon which to design teacher education programs.

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy, 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, implement, reflect on, and evaluate learner-centered curriculum and practice.

Although Dewey’s ideas did not convert policy makers and education decision makers, it did have a strong impact on the Progressive Education movement which advocated active and problem based learning.  Although historians of education would agree that Thorndike’s educational and psychological ideas won out in the advancing the direction of American education, Dewey’s ideas maintained a hold on a cadre of teachers and teacher educators.  Many of the successful teacher education programs identified by Darling-Hammond (2006) are substantially Deweyan in nature.

I fell in love with teaching and being a science teacher educator when I was very young.  I arrived at Georgia State University  at the age of 29, and was embraced by my colleagues in science education who had arrived at GSU at the same time, but they were “seasoned” science educators, having had professorships at other universities.  I was a rookie fresh out of graduate school.  Even though I taught middle and high school science, and had graduated with a Ph.D. in science education and geology, many of you would agree that I couldn’t possibly be prepared for all the challenges I would face in my new position.  There is no question in my mind that the collaboration with colleagues over the years helped cultivate my identify and self-confidence in being and thinking like a teacher educator.

Over the years, I collaborated with colleagues in K-12 schools and universities and research organizations in the U.S. and other countries, especially Russia, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic.  We used humanistic, progressive, and experiential frames of reference in designing teacher education, and curriculum.  We closed the distance between theory and practice by co-creating programs, curriculum, experiences in teaching and teacher education.

I will explore teacher education from these experiences, and the research that intwined over the next few posts.

Do you think teacher education is important?  In what ways?  


Apple, M.W. (2008), Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 105 – 110).  New York, USA: Routledge.

Fishman, S.M. and McCarthy, L. (1998). John Dewey and the challenge of classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Robertson, E. (2008), Teacher education in a democratic society in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 27 – 44).  New York, USA: Routledge.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.