Brown: New teachers need apprenticeship

Ed Week‘s Teaching Ahead asks young teachers how teacher preparation should be changed. Several teachers who started after a crash course in teaching over the summer say they needed much more time to learn the job, though a graduate of teachers’ education also says she wasn’t prepared for classroom realities.

Time to Practice Is a Need, Not a Luxury, writes Dan Brown, who taught fourth grade for a chaotic year in the Bronx with alternative certification and eventually earned a master’s degree in education.

Looking back, my ignorance was staggering. I had bought—with the help of my alternative-certification program designed to plug chronic staffing shortages—the most insidious myth about teaching: anybody smart and dedicated can swoop in and rock it.

. . . The most important baseline that preparation programs must provide incoming teachers is substantial time in a variety of classrooms before those rookies assume the reins. An entire school year of structured observation and apprentice-teaching must be standard.

Brown’s book on his first year of teaching, The Great Expectations School, provides a vivid picture of the challenging students, colleagues and administrators. Brown provides a lot of specifics on his teaching. I’d have loved more on how the school was staffed:  The school seemed to have more administrators and other staffers than classroom teachers. Brown got more feedback on the quality of the classroom bulletin board than he did on how to manage students or teach.

About Joanne


  1. Ted Craig says:

    Part of the problem is many ed schools focus on the theoretical rather than the technical. Of course, this is true of most majors.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Michigan State does or used to require a full year of student teaching. Among other things, the teacher deals with all of the big deals, homecoming, Christmas, spring break, graduation, the prom, spring hormones and distractions, snow days, sees kids progress one way or another. My daughter’s first experience was to see her supervising teacher the first part of first hour and never again. Every day. We figured the teacher had something on the principal. Anyway, she got good experience, including just plain time on task.
    Would that count?

  3. I have argued for years that legislatures could improve the performance of their States’ K-12 school systems if they allowed principals to hire as apprentice teachers applicants with degrees in the relevant disciplines (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Physics for Secondary Science, Economics, Psychology, History for Secondary Social Studies, anything with two years of Calculus and a semester of Linear Algebra for Secondary Math) as in-house substitutes, department gofers, and teachers’ aides, and abandoned the entire College of Education curriculum.
    College of Education coursework adds next to nothing to teacher competence. Its sole function is to maintain the mystique of teaching as something beyond the ability of parents or agents selected by parents.

  4. Yes, we should shift to an “internship” model the way physicians are trained. Prospective teachers should teach under the guidance of a veteran in special lab schools. After lunch, while the students go to their “specials” (art, music, PE, foreign language, library, etc.) the mentor would do an “after-action review” with the mentee to discuss the good and bad points of the morning.

  5. At the ES level, and probably at the MS level, it is beyond ridiculous that teachers cannot be prepared to hit the ground running after graduation. Obviously, classroom experiences should be included, with increasing responsibilities, but students enter -or should be required to enter- college already knowing the academic material they will be teaching. In four years, they can’t extend that knowledge and learn the most effective ways to teach it?

  6. The apprenticeship model is certainly a good idea – and would contrast the standard practice of giving teachers a book or two, a sheet of paper with general curriculum guidelines, and the task of coming up with 170 days of instruction.

    It’s a farce and it always has been. Research shows a teacher needs roughly three years to even become competent and comfortable enough to manage a classroom, and that’s why so many leave in the first three years.

  7. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Perhaps if we didn’t insist on throwing 22-year-olds to whom you wouldn’t easily entrust your car, let alone your children, into the classroom straight out of college, the need for apprenticeships would not be quite as pressing.