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I’m Not Surprised

Brenda and I are in Asheville moving my daughters things from the temporary appartment she used while student teaching, back home. She’s not here with us. Those of you who are parents know how you spell parent. It’s s-e-r-v-a-n-t. Actually, she already has a summer job and will be working, making money, while we’re hauling furniture.

I guess it’s official now. My daughter’s decided that she doesn’t want to be a teacher. I’m not really surprised, but I am disappointed. I’d looked forward to talking shop with her, having something large in common with her — outside of family stuff. She evidently had a good time with the students, once she got her swing. She said that many of the students were sad to see her go, that they’d enjoyed her style. She went in wanting to be creative, to make it look, not like teaching, but like mass learning.

It was the job. The only really concrete thing she told me was that she was being asked to teach things that she knew weren’t important and in some cases, things that she knew were not true. In North Carolina, most core subjects (U.S. History among them) are tested at the end of the course with state created standardized tests, designed in a way so that scoring them will cost tax-payers as little money as possible.

Her supervising teacher had only been teaching for three or four years, her entire career within the confines of NCLB. Not her fault. If I wanted to blame anyone, it would be her college (the same college that prepared me for teaching). I’m not really in a position to say specifically, except that I don’t think she was ready. She’d taking a bunch of history classes, and she’s still reading history books like candy. But I’m not sure she’d been prepared for the opportunities and constraints of the classroom. I’m not sure any of us were or even could be. I don’t know anyone who had a happy student teaching experience. I certainly didn’t, and it was only in my second year that I thought I might become good at teaching, and even like it.

So, she’s back home, and started classes at the local community college. We’re converting the down stairs section of our split-level house to a small apartment, and moving my office upstairs to her old bed room. More about that later.

She’s decided she wants to clean teeth. The local community college has a program in dental hygiene, a very tough program to get into — tougher than getting into education school. She’ll make almost double her starting salary as a teacher, work only four days a week, and no one will ask her to compromise her professional integrity.

Update: I think that more to the point is that my state, North Carolina, needs 10,000 new teachers every year, and all of our schools of education graduate on 3,500. According to a May 2002 Raleigh News & Observer story, only 2,200 of those teachers enter the classroom. ((Silberman, Todd. Not Enough Teachers.” The News and Observer [Raleigh, NC]1 May 2002)) We can’t afford to send teachers out ill-prepared. Again, no blame to a system that’s worked for years. The blame goes to those who remain satisfied with a system that’s worked for years. We need to hack that system.

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  • Joel

    …and out of the 2200 teachers who enter the classroom, how many leave in the first 5 years? Some statistics suggest 50%.

    Teaching is the most mentally demanding profession I have ever been in. Ironically, for some, it is not; as there is a range of abilities, aptitudes and effort put forth in teaching. I imagine that is the same across most professions, but in education, it seems that there is a much broader range.

    There is no question that the system is broken, but it is broken in so many places and on a very fundamental level – where do we start? Tweaking the system has had minimal impact, but really, have we done anything more in the past 100 years than simply small course corrections?

    Teacher shortage is another component of a long list of external pressures that may force us to do a complete wipe of the system. Add it to years of frustration, societal change in expectations, choice and options, polarized wealth/economic depravity, increased societal needs, curricula designed for the 1950′s (which match the structures designed for the 1950′s), a compensation system which rewards people who simply exist longer than their peers, an institution which most children are bored with (and the age at which that boredom sets in is creeping downward) and a monumental resistance to any type of change.

    At some point, these pressures may become so great, that a complete wipe and rebuild might be the only option left. It is hard to tell when that might happen though as the pressure will need to be enough to crack a very thick shell of rigidity.

    • http://www.allnewpubliceducation.com Stephen Dill


      I agree that David’s daughter’s experience, echoed below and seen over and over by each of us, is one of the many indicators that we have a broken system. We cannot expect consistent results in one school over 5 years, much less the entire nation going forward. When a system is broken it is a waste of time to focus only on bandages if no one is developing a cure for the cause.

      I believe as a nation leading the world we need to reboot our education machine. Drop all preconceived notions and current definitions of “public education” and start from square one. First, what is the objective? And what are the success factors? Now, how do we build a system that achieves that objective?

      I have a suggestion out on http://www.allnewpubliceducation.com that is intended to begin that discussion, and eventually lead to creating the solution and implementing a far-reaching change. I welcome the chance to pick up the discussion there.

      Stephen Dill

  • Dave

    What are the things she was being asked to teach that she knew were not true?

  • http://drctedd.wordpress.com Cheri Toledo


    This is a topic close to my heart since I teach at a university that is one of the top 5 in the nation for putting teachers into the classroom. In my situation, teaching secondary students, I see preservice teachers who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to be the carbon copy of their favorite high school teacher.

    My job is to help them see the realities of the teaching profession. We talk about over a dozen issues that they will face as teachers: classroom discipline, NCLB, technology, diversity, curriculum, teacher responsibilities and professionalism, working with administrators, parents, and more. Thankfully, each semester I have 1 or 2 students who come to me and say, “I’ve decided that teaching is not for me.” When that happens, I know I’ve done my job – I’ve helped them see teaching for what it is, the most demanding (yet most rewarding) profession there is.

  • http://ilearntechnology.com Kelly

    I can relate with the terrible student teaching experience. I was placed in a classroom with a teacher who was getting ready to retire and showing it, in a school with extremely poor administrative support. The experience was so bad that I was ready to bail on teaching forever and actually ended up going bald from the stress. God is good and led me to a technology position at a private Christian school and I discovered not only that I love teaching but I love everything technology.
    Good luck to your daughter!

  • http://www.marturia.net Ian H.

    I have to admit I don’t understand much about the American teacher-training system… do you only get into a classroom after finishing your training?

    The university I attended had a direct-entry Faculty of Education. In the first year of the four-year degree, you spent time in the classroom to see if it agreed with you. The time in the classroom increased progressively through the years until the 1st semester of the fourth year was spent in its entirety out in a classroom.

  • http://www.mystateofflux.net Jay Bennett

    Please exclude Cheri from the following, she seems to have a handle on it, unfortunately I think that she may be an exception. Most of the teacher prep programs are being taught by the same professors that have been there for 15,20,30, years. They are preparing teachers the same way that they did so many years ago. By the time the student reaches student teaching, it’s too late. They need to know going in what to expect. I think that content knowledge is important and most students come out ready to impart the knowledge. What they they don’t have, and didn’t get from the professors, is an idea of all of the non-classroom stuff that they have to deal with. I’m thinking of everything from class discipline to special ed students in the regular classroom, the paperwork, the standardized testing, the integration of technology, the realization that they have no control over a student’s home life and that inherent baggage, etc. When I was teaching special education on an emergency certification I was also taking classes to make that certification permanent. Here I was teaching in the classroom environment that my fellow classmates were preparing for. I was a constant thorn in the side of many of my professors because I felt it was important to point out when the professor was off speaking about what would happen in the classroom. It was quite apparent that it had been a long time since they had been in a classroom that was not on the university campus. I would love to see more part time faculty, those teachers with lots of classroom experience, teaching the methods courses and leave the content courses to the tenured profs. Although with unions and tenure and all the other political baggage associated with the univeristy system, I won’t be holding my breath!

    • http://drctedd.wordpress.com Cheri Toledo


      Thank you for the exclusion – one of the few times I appreciated being left out.

      I agree with you. I’ve even heard of instances in which teacher educators have never been in a K-12 classroom. Now that’s a travesty. How can they even begin to teach preservice teachers anything but what they have experienced as a student?

      In my Secondary Issues classes students are bombarded with tasks, technologies, adn paperwork. When they complain I say, “Welcome to teaching!” If they can’t handle having 2 assignments due in one week – probably 5 assignments total in all their classes – how are they going to get through the first week of school as a new teacher? To say nothing of making it through their first year.

      You’re right again, having instructional professors is a must – they should have one foot in the K-12 classroom and one in the teacher ed classroom. But who says those need to be separate? Many teacher ed programs, including ours, have Professional Development Schools (PDSs). Students in PDSs spend their entire year in the schools. They are assigned to a PDS where they take their last year’s coursework and work in the classroom with the same teacher for a full year. Teachers coming out of PDSs are much more likely to stay in teaching; they enter the field with a well-rounded preparation; and are many times hired by the district where they served. It’s a win-win.

      As with most American education systems, we need to quit separating out all the elements – dividing up subjects and people – and instead, integrate it all into one system (that is, “system” in the best sense of the word).

  • http://lauriefowler.edublogs.org Laurie Fowler

    I am so sorry your daughter won’t be continuing in the field of education. I used to teach undergraduate education majors computer curriculum development and saw many of them change their minds after their first “real” interaction with students in the classroom in practicum situations.

    The lack of support we give new teachers in just about every state is appalling and for your daughter to be student teaching under someone who has NEVER taught free of NCLB rules is also atrocious. Because of NCLB we spend too much time teaching facts that our students will soon forget and not enough time teaching them to think, work together, or care for themselves or the environment. When will we ever learn?

    Best wishes to your daughter in her new career. May she find joy and happiness in addition to a bigger paycheck.

  • Sallie

    I guess I am in the minority. I had a WONDERFUL student teaching experience that truly made me a confident, effective teacher from day 1 in my own classroom. My mentor teacher was engaging, had high expectations for all students, and had a GREAT rapor with kids (99% LOVED him). I thank him everyday for everything he taught me. The first lesson he had me develop and teach was horrendous!!! He looked at me and said “How do you think that went?” I told him I thought I had gone down in flames. He said “I agree, now what are we going to do to make it better?” He was so supportive and so honest with me that I felt very confident. I learned more from him in one semester then I have from ANY course, experience, PD, or all of college combined. I wish they were all like him :)

  • http://www.stager.org Gary Stager


    Thanks for this candid blog post. I think it may be your best.

    This is my least favorite time of the year. It’s when great teachers email to tell me, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.”

    Student teaching is an incredibly powerful (for good or bad) learning experience. It doesn’t matter what the college of education does, or how well it does it, if the student teaching environment contradicts a student teacher’s beliefs or education.

    The colleges of education are far too quick to accept the vocational demands of cooperating districts who demand to know why student teachers have not been “trained” in Open Court Reading, Open Court Math, or the spelling book du jour.

    Seymour Papert used to speak a lot about the need to create colleges of education who prepare teachers for the future rather than the past or the aberrational historical accident of the past seven years.

    I remain concerned by how little colleges of education teach students about contracts, unions, school law and the fact that there are lots of different kinds of schools (and non-schools) to teach in. I gave a lecture at one of the nation’s most prestigious schools last year and met young ambitious ($200,000 in debt) college seniors about to join Teach for America and teach in Alabama. Despite their generosity of spirit and enthusiasm, these young people were concerned that they would be teaching from a Success-for-All script. I was the FIRST adult who told them to find another place to work.

    “Since American educators are likely to retire in the classroom where they begin their careers, you better find the right place to work,” I told them. Their talents could be put to better use if they did not violate their own code of right and wrong.

    Another important life lesson is that the entire world is not North Carolina (or insert your state). You’re in a great position to share that lesson with your kids.

    Your daughter’s experience also reinforces my belief that you should find the best college that fits your style and needs. College should be a time where you interact with smart people who blow your mind and inspire you to believe that anything is possible. It should not be thought of in vocational terms, especially since fewer than 25% of four-year college graduates work in the field in which they hold a degree.

    I don’t know your situation, but perhaps your daughter can have other educational experiences within an undergraduate program and perhaps via airplane and beach before deciding on her life’s calling.

    My 2 cents,


  • http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com Sarah Stewart

    I really enjoyed your post – its interesting to hear about issues in another profession (I’m in health).

    What made me laugh was your definition of parent – SERVANT. I came up with my own saying the other day, when my 18 yr old son was trying to con me out of money

    “Now you’re 18, I’m not your mother!”. I don’t think its going to work.

  • http://alibraryisalibrary.blogspot.com/ VWB

    I am working my way thru my own kind of mouring regarding my daughters and their close encounters with teaching. One trained to be one and has yet to take it up. She says she wants to, but the roadblocks (hers and others put in her way) have kept her away. The other, prepared for a different life, found teaching calling her. She jumped in with both feet, made a difference I think, and then met ugly reality, but she will bounce back.
    It was fun sharing the magic…and I want to continue that joyful ride…with both. I just need t be patient.

  • http://www.glnd.k12.va.us/weblog/bcantor Bea Cantor

    I am surprised that none of those who have commented so far have said anything about the one thing that caught my attention above all others.

    Dave, what was your daughter being asked to teach that is not true? Teaching is very hard, but it seems your daughter could have managed had she not felt she was being asked to have no integrity. Or did I read the post wrong?

  • readerdiane

    I am sorry that your daughter worked so hard to find that the system didn’t fit her.
    My oldest daughter did go into teaching and her first year in a small district found her with a class with so many problems; I would have run screaming from them. I can applaud her efforts that she stuck it out. This year she has a great class and a wonderful experience. She knew she loved teaching because she had actually spent summers teaching swimming lessons.

    No one has mentioned the hoops NCLB has all of us jumping through. After 34 years of teaching I am no longer qualified to teach part of my Social studies class-I have become stupid in Geography, economy, and government. I still know my history-whoopee. Of course I could take a Praxis to prove I know information but it doesn’t prove I know how to teach.

    Our school district will lose 40% of our teachers in the next 5 years because of retirements. I have no idea what changes will happen because of that.
    I am hoping to go part time to do technology integration in the classroom ;) Who needs geography when we have GPS

  • http://www.doucwhatic.edublogs.org vejraska

    This conversation is haunting me. A recent post of mine, http://doucwhatic.edublogs.org/2008/04/26/a-little-taste-of-reality/
    and the comments that followed really connect to this conversation. What are we going to do about this whole disfunctional system? Thank goodness your daughter is following her heart, although I am sure with your guidance she may have found a way to overcome the downfalls of this broken system and done some real good in the classroom.

    Why can’t we have teacher internships? Students must complete one full year of immersion in a classroom before being admitted to the teaching program. Then, would they not demand that the shape of higher education change to meet their needs? Would they be heard? Hmmmm…

  • Doug Dickinson

    I support students who are going to be teachers, helping them to see that ICT has the potential to make a difference. They listen to me and my enthusiasms politely and then they go out into schools to work with teachers. They come back into the university periodically during their course and graducally I can see that the fire in them dims. The realities take over … they have listened in staff rooms and their burning desire to make a difference survives only in the strongest or the most optimistic. They become bogged down in the trivia of education rather than celebrating the challenges of learning. They look for lesson plans and pre-prepared texts rather than start from where the children are. They stick to the ‘curriculum’ … because it is expected.

    And some of them don’t even start the part of their life that they have prepared for. And many of those that do don’t carry on for long.

    The survivers are made of strong stuff … often they are not the young and enthusiastic graduates but people who are well into their lives having had jobs and children and responsibilities … they have got to this point by positive decisions and many family sacrifices …

    Teaching is exciting … it is part of me … I could not give it up .. but I do understand those that do.

  • Michelle Harrison


    I couldn’t agree more with you that teacher preparation courses do little to prepare to teachers for what teaching is really like. Student teaching didn’t even prepare me and it was so awful, I am surprised I even wanted to still be a teacher after that experience. I have recently started to take graduate classes towards a master’s in reading degree. In these classes my classmates and I often discuss how unprepared we felt when finally got our own classrooms. When you are in college they don’t teach you how to prepare students for standardized tests or how to really use technology in the classroom. You are not taught about how to deal with teachers who just don’t care anymore about their jobs. You also are not taught about how difficult it can be to get tenured and all the rights you do not have until you are tenured. Obviously, there is a lot more to being a teacher than making up lesson plans and teaching students everyday. I think a lot of colleges fail to recognize what teaching is really like and until they do they will continue to graduate teachers who are not really prepared.

  • http://www.futura.edublogs.org Carolyn Foote


    I’m feeling moved to say that I’m sad she won’t be staying in education.

    There are so many factors, as you mention, that make it a difficult profession to start in, but there is so much incredible passion in it as well, for those who love it.

    It may not be her thing, and she’s wise to realize that….but I wish there was a way for her to experience more than one kind of classroom and school, because these days, there are many different kinds of schools to work. I think young teachers don’t always realize they have a choice–to opt for an innovative school–to hold out for a position that suits them the best, because each of us has a different type of niche we fit into best.

    Wouldn’t it be best if student teaching involved practice teaching at several different schools, so that as a teacher you really got a taste of different teaching styles, management styles, etc?

    It just saddens me to lose a potential teacher, though for her, I wish the best at her new career.

  • http://carlanderson.blogspot.com Carl Anderson

    I have been thinking a lot lately about this problem we face of so many teachers leaving the profession and so few entering it. We are approaching a crisis. It seems there are a lot of things that have nothing to do with teaching or students that are causing this problem. You hit on one big one…compensation. To teach in a public school classroom you have to jump through umpteen hoops and deal with contract regulations put forth by school boards who want to make sure budgets are balanced and teacher unions who want to make sure the status quo is protected. The result is that teaching in the US has become probably the only profession that puts a cap on how much one individual can earn.

    This push and pull between both internal and external politics I believe sucks dry the enthusiasm most people have for teaching. So often we are told we can’t do something that seems best for kids or we are told we have to teach them this or that or in this or that way because we are compromising too much. Much of this compromise is the result of this push and pull between those who want change, those who worry about the money, and those who are afraid of change. This problem is compounded when you throw in variables such as tenure into the equation. Tenure has a way of ensuring change does not happen very fast and in some cases has a way of ensuring that change does not happen at all.

    In many ways the issues you discuss in this post have been on my mind my entire career. When I graduated college in 1999, after a wonderful student teaching experience, I too decided not to enter the profession. I chose to find my place elsewhere because of a philosophical dilemma I had going straight from being a student to being a teacher. I worried that if all teachers did this the system would lack connection to the world outside of academia. I did, after one year spent building cabinets, doing maintenance at an art museum, and doing the occasional substitute teaching, decided to enter the teacher workforce. I still do what I can to try to stay connected to the non education world by being actively involved in non-school related work within my content area. Maybe your daughter will decide someday to go back to the classroom as well. Maybe by then the crisis will have reached a point where some of these political hurdles have been overcome.

  • http://edtechupdate.blogspot.com Jim D

    David, I just happened to be visiting in the Cleveland area and I saw the Sunday Plain Dealer. On the front page was an outstanding article about the problems with teacher education programs. Here’s how it starts:

    “Imagine that commercial airline pilots were trained in schools where almost everyone who applied was admitted.

    Imagine that their instructors had not been in a cockpit for decades and rarely spoke with active pilots about new equipment or cutting-edge techniques.

    And imagine that those mythical training schools operated within an accreditation system that failed to ensure quality and rarely disciplined failure.

    Fasten your seat belt.

    That imaginary scenario is all too close to the way critics describe the training that America’s teachers receive — on average — at the nation’s 1,200 college- and university-based teacher education programs.”

    Read the rest of it here: http://blog.cleveland.com/pdextra/2008/05/research_questions_quality_of.html
    and here: http://blog.cleveland.com/pdextra/2008/05/how_different_are_alternative.html
    and here: http://www.cleveland.com/teacherprep/

  • http://www.soulycatholichs.blogspot.com Charlie A. Roy

    I agree that too many teacher education programs are teaching methodologies and pedagogies that are not current, relevant, or based on best practice. My new crop of teachers this year has been a mixed bag. Many have excelled beyond my expectations as a principal while a few have struggled. One is not coming back and the other struggling candidate is showing great signs of being willing to learn. It seems the classroom management part takes the cake as the largest problem for newbies. Nice to see some programs out there that are really pushing to make new teachers aware of the issues they will be facing as well as providing hour upon hour of observation.

  • http://kamccollum.wordpress.com Kimberly McCollum

    I entered teaching through an alternative certification program and did not have the “benefit” of a teacher training program. I earned a graduate degree in education while I was teaching and felt that most of the courses I took were inadequate. There was a lot that I needed to know and the courses did very little to teach it to me.

    I learned to become a good teacher from experience, however, I wish that my students during my first two years had had the benefit of an already experienced teacher. I think that instead of student teaching, a new teacher should team teach with a master teacher for at least a year before getting a classroom of their own. At least, that’s what I think would have helped me the most.

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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