I read a comment on twitter this week that really got my head going and I have spent a lot of the week asking different peers who are both in and around education circles what they think of this challenging debate...do we strive to improve and create excellence in our institutions for trainee teachers, ensuring that only the best candidates are taken into training or do we ensure that the professional development provided for schools is excellent instead?
Let me create a scenario or two for you and see where this takes our thinking...
Scenario 1 - young post-high school student, a bit lost as to which career choice to make, ends up applying (half-heartedly) for teaching. Passes (just) the degree course, has no ambitions of doing a Masters or aiming for the top job at the end of it all.
Scenario 2 - person who has been at Uni for the 4 years, completed a Masters and wants to go into teaching with a mind to making a substantial career out of it (aiming for the top). Is largely driven to achieve as much as possible, filled with dreams and drive as well as plenty of 'smarts' on paper along with it!
Which of these teachers do we think will make the 'best' teacher?
And how would we measure that???
And what would we do with the one that we thought WOULDN'T make the 'best' teacher?
When I was training, I enjoyed what I did but I didn't strive to complete a degree let alone a Masters. My diploma was all I needed, and school (up until then) had actually got in the way of my education! I was tired of conventional study methods - I am certainly a 'learn as you do it' type of person (still am) but because of this, I am also a problem-solver and lateral thinker, because conventional thinking did not impress me. These 2 skills have meant that as I aged and gained experience, I also grew immensely in my knowledge of how children learn. I have never been bogged down by what I believed to be concrete and true, instead I have always examined learning as if it were a fluid and ever-changing thing. It means that although I have kept up with research and professional reading I have never been constrained by one way of thinking.
So, if this way of deciding on who is BEST qualified begins prior to teacher training and then feeds through to some people failing to qualify because of it, perhaps we need to examine what makes a good teacher.
1. Time - time to work with children in a room of our own, time to develop strategies for behaviour management, time to grow as a learner ourselves.
2. Attitude - as a young/inexperienced teacher there is often an attitude of knowing much and needing little but as experience grows we tend to grow into our own attitudes of the need to continue learning as educators.
3. Modeling - we have to see excellent practice and be immersed in it to change how we do things, to develop a broader skills base for ourselves.
4. Experience - every experience we have as teachers broadens our thinking and develops our skills.
5. Change - this is always a part of teaching - from changing thinking to changing curriculum to changing practice!
6. Further education - professional development and higher education lead to changes in practice and an evolution to pedagogy (often). But they must be high quality and relevant to where a teacher is at with their own journey.
Some of the smartest people I have met in teaching are not necessarily the best classroom practitioners (although many of them are) and some of the least qualified teachers on paper are incredible classroom practitioners (although not all of them are!)
So, in answer to the original question...perhaps they both have merit and equal weighting. If we have excellence in teacher training and then excellence in professional development then we are sending highly qualified teachers into a highly supportive and forward-thinking profession! Isn't that the BEST answer?