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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teacher prep trains for mediocrity

Ryan Williams-Virden now works at Hiawatha Collegiate High in Minneapolis.

A traditional teacher-preparation program qualified Ryan Williams-Virden to be a mediocre teacher, he writes. He “half-assed” his studies and still earned a credential.

The reality is that most teacher preparation programs don’t require or nurture excellence: Students in graduate education programs have among the lowest GRE scores, and despite the pathetic effort I put in, I aced the tests I was required to take to receive my license. Even worse is the fact that I walked out of the one course (in an Urban Education program) focused on culture and diversity and still got a license. There was only one person of color in my entire program. If quality teaching matters (we know it does) and if we need more teachers of color (we know we do), then we need to be more serious about standards, intentions, and diversity in the field.

Eventually, he realized he had to work harder “to become the educator my city’s students deserved.”

Ironically, it was colleagues who had been trained by alternative preparation programs like Teach For America who became my most trusted thought partners, and to whom I looked for accountability and models of excellence. While my mostly white mediocre teacher training classmates had already left or never even entered a classroom, these folks were (and still are) putting in the blood, sweat, and tears required for great teaching, and they were (and still are) getting results. In every area—classroom management, teacher skills and moves, equity—my alternatively trained colleagues are miles ahead of the program I had come from.

After nine years teaching in district, charter and private schools, Williams-Virden calls for supporting “alternative programs that demand excellence and promote diversity.”

He is now dean of students at Hiawatha Collegiate High School, a charter school in Minneapolis.

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