One of the aspects of obtaining my teaching certificate that always made me cringe was the banal mix of the utterly impractical and the blindingly obvious that comprised the knowledge base we provide to aspiring educators. I was luckier than a number of my classmates: I was able to work as a substitute teacher while going through the teacher education classes because I was a mid-career entrant who had long ago earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I had also worked in business for many years and honed my presentation skills.
However, I sometimes wondered just what was going to happen to my much younger classmates when they had to stand in front of a classroom full of students armed with only what they had learned from Education professors who in some cases had been out of teaching for over twenty-five years. On the one hand, it was nice to know that I was correct that the two ways to cool a room were to turn down the temperature on the thermostat and open a window; on the other hand, I wondered why we had to be taught material that was so mundane or, in some instances, of highly questionable value.
For example, one concept that I always ended up arguing with the professors was the one of multiple intelligences and learning styles—the basic idea being the teacher’s instruction had to be tailored to how the students’ brains were prepared to receive it. Certainly, it was useful as a framework to think about how we impart and receive information, and it is definitely important to find ways to vary how we teach our students. Do not only lecture; do not only assign quiet work; do not only show films. Changing up your presentation is a sure way to avoid boring your students, and it is worthwhile to monitor how we impart the essentials of our curriculum. That was not, unfortunately, purpose of introducing the hypothesis to a room full of future educators.
We were told we should take this theoretical concept and look for ways to identify the particular “type” of intelligence of each student so we could play to their strengths as we designed out lesson plans. For example, if you have a student with an outstanding spatial intelligence, more photographs and diagrams would be of use. However, if another student exhibited a greater interpersonal intelligence, group activities with lots of opportunity for interaction would work better. Other students with logical-mathematical intelligence might learn more from charts and graphs laden with decimal points.
Aside from the practical considerations inherent in one teacher trying to teach so many different ways at once, you also have to wonder if this is such a good idea. If you have a student with a relatively poor “linguistic” intelligence, known to those outside Colleges of Education as “cannot read and write well”, should you allow that capability to further atrophy by finding something other than words with which to engage that student? We have to face the fact that the linguistically challenged student is unlikely to find many future employers willing to play to his other multiple intelligences—perhaps, for example, an outstanding “kinesthetic” intelligence—by communicating information through interpretative dance. Words are important, and the ability to recognize them and use them is a critical life survival skill. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise, no matter how beguiling the concept underlying the theory.
Frankly, if I had one suggestion to make regarding teacher education, it would be this: All Education professors must have been actively and successfully teaching in a public school classroom for at least one full year out of every three they spend training educators. I am sure this could be arranged as a cooperative venture between our Colleges of Education and our public schools, and it would help drive out from the field the Education professors who went for their PhD specifically to avoid ever having to teach in a public school again. Moreover, it will make it possible for those who teach our teachers to better understand how to join book theory to practical classroom teaching methods.
Most important, perhaps if we do this, we will see fewer young teachers leaving the profession after only a year or two in our schools, overwhelmed by what they should have learned before they actually took charge of a classroom full of students.