Train teachers like pilots

Train teachers like pilots, suggests Amanda Ripley in the Atlantic.

Before George Deneault flew Air Force combat missions, he had to practice every skill again and again.  When he retired and became a special-ed math teacher, “he walked into a Virginia classroom cold.”

Before student teachers enter classes, Boston’s Match Teacher Residency program puts them through 100 hours of drills with students and adults acting like slouching, fiddling, back-talking kids. The brain learns to respond to routine misbehavior, so it can focus on the harder work of teaching. The Institute for Simulation and Training runs a virtual classroom at 12 education colleges nationwide—using artificial intelligence, five child avatars, and a behind-the-scenes actor. Some trainees find the simulation so arduous that they decide not to go into teaching after all.

But most teachers in training do 12 to 15 weeks of student teaching with an experienced teacher in the classroom. “Once on the job, most teachers get only nominal supervision, and 46 percent quit within five years,” Ripley writes.

It is time, finally, to start training teachers the way we train doctors and pilots, with intense, realistic practice, using humans, simulations, and master instructors—time to stop saying teaching is hard work and start acting like it.

Is it possible to simulate the teaching experience for people who aren’t really classroom teachers? What would have to be added to the slouching students to make it realistic?

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  1. 12-15 weeks is a long time. I would like to see more schools do what Stanford does, and give the candidates a whole year of time, and a semester running the class. The teacher is often gone. But this idea? Bleagh.

    Match Teacher Residency is a North Korea. You agree with everything they say, do everything that they tell you, or you’re gone. (And that’s keeping my own experience in mind.) I wouldn’t want to go there. But then, that’s the way of most charter schools–sign on for their ideology or forget it.

    I wouldn’t mind something like this if it wasn’t linked to the ideology. It might be fun for a shy teacher to pay for some practice time in a lab. But not at a place like Match.

  2. In my part of Canada, there tends to be about 30 weeks of in-class training/mentoring. Having said that though, 40% still leave in the first 2 years. Teaching is a very, very tough job, but getting a job is also very challenging, then keeping it, and being able to live on the salary when much of it goes to supplying students with what they need and supportive technologies, etc., etc. There are many, many reasons for a high turnover of teachers, but I’m guessing that if there was the low unemployment rate experienced by doctors, and a similar salary, the turnover would disappear.

    Having spoken in a number of universities to teachers in training, here’s my observation. These students were successful in the traditional curriculum. They embrace a different culture than the one they are going to teach. For instance, they do not hang out in virtual worlds like 95% of their peers and students. When they try to teach the way that they (and their profs) learned, it doesn’t resonate with the majority of their students. So, they quit. This isn’t rocket science.

    Unfortunately, the opinions of those in a position to have gained insights on these matters don’t seem to matter. Everyone feels entitled to a position and to having it heard. The problem comes with their unwillingness to listen…. Frustrating.

  3. Wow. I love the simulation idea. In college, I had the experience of “microteaching” where they paid some bored college students to act as students for my lesson. It wasn’t that helpful.

    Of course, I don’t see how this training is any different than student teaching – though kids don’t have to suffer through poor teachers. But currently, many young teachers do quit after student teaching or their first year. Thus, the attrition of teachers is still there if they can’t cut it. An additional point is that teaching is not all about classroom management and disruptive kids.

    But, still, an interesting idea.

  4. Miss Ripley seems entirely unaware of the fact that teaching skill is so little valued in the public education system that it’s entirely unnoticed and the role that skill usually takes in the organization is entirely subsumed by years on the job and the acquisition of specious degrees.

    Teachers, unlike pilots, don’t have to face the consequences of their incompetence and neither do their superiors. Change that fact and Miss Ripley’s suggestion goes from being pointless to inevitable.

  5. Hey, if MTR is North Korea, does that mean I need to get a Kim Jong-Un flat-top haircut to work there?

    Gord makes a great observation above. I hadn’t known that about Canadian teacher attrition.

    And per MMazenko, in order to make simulation/practice effective, we had to fail a lot at the beginning.

    One way we improve is that our teacher residents rate every single hour of everything they do, whether it’s practice, student teach, or sit in a grad class. We use their “hive mind” to constantly tinker.