A few days ago, I tweeted out a horribly typo-ridden poll that gained quite a number of votes. It should have read, “During your time training as a teacher, were any ideas presented to you as facts that you now believe to be untrue?”
It is hardly scientific. A sample from people who follow me or who follow people likely to retweet my poll is not a representative sample of the teaching workforce. We are constantly being told that the preoccupations of educators on Twitter are not shared by the majority of teachers and I am inclined to agree. Nevertheless, around 500 responses from people who are at least pretending to be teachers agreed that they had essentially been taught falsehoods.
I wonder whether other professions feel this way about their professional training?
The quality of teacher education is a difficult issue to grasp because it is hard to research the totality of teacher education courses. If I point out, for instance, that a particular university was teaching learning styles in its teacher education courses, at least until very recently, a critic may reasonably suggest that this is a rare exception. We cannot know whether this is typical without wider research and yet it would be hard to collect, digest and synthesise the curriculum materials of lots of different education courses.
A more systematic way to evaluate the quality of teacher education courses is to survey the knowledge of trainee teachers. We should be able to infer something about the quality of education courses from what new teachers know.
I was reminded of a recent article by Jennifer Stephenson of Macquarie University who sought to review papers published on the knowledge of Australian preservice teachers. Stephenson obtained data from 52 peer-reviewed articles and it makes for depressing reading. The 52 studies identified a number of holes in content knowledge and knowledge of teaching. However, we should avoid drawing firm conclusions because the studies were often limited in scope and in some cases it was not clear that the sample of preservice teachers was representative.
This is an area that clearly needs more rigorous research.