Monday, March 11, 2019

Why I Don't Use "Teacher Training" to Describe Teacher Education

Above: This is a class picture from when I taught my first social studies methods course as a doctoral student in 2009. Even back then, I would always refer to educating future teachers, rather than training them.

I never use the phrase "teacher training." Those who work with me also know that I try my best to encourage them to stop using it as well. I have been a teacher educator for over 10 years (notice how we do not usually say "teacher trainer"), and I have always had an uneasiness with describing the process where teachers learn (and continue to learn) to teach as "training." I think that it problematically frames teachers' work as overly simplistic, involving little thought and creativity, and something that can be learned in a relatively brief period of time. It does not encapsulate the intellectual flexibility or the crucial problem solving skills that teachers need to do in their work.

This post is my public service announcement on the issue...

What is Training?

Merriam-Webster defines training as:

1: to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient; to form by instruction, discipline, or drill
2: to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill
3: to direct the growth of (a plant) usually by bending, pruning, and tying

These definitions of training can help us break down why it is not the right term to describe the complex process that teachers experience as they are learn (and continue to learn) to teach. Embedded in the definition of training are several problematic ideas that are implicit and are important to unpack.

First, the word training means "to make fit." One interpretation of this is similar to qualified or proficient. However, I would like to instead use "to cause to conform to or suit something." This view of teacher training is the reason why early schools of education were called normal schools, and they were designed to establish a set of norms among all teachers and to standardize their practices (also see how gender played into the whole normal school idea). The second part explains how this "fitting" occurs through "instruction, discipline, or drill." The drill and discipline components clearly imply that repeated behaviors will lead to the intended outcome of becoming a proficient teacher. Additionally, discipline means "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" (interestingly, it also means "punishment," which all teachers know from their school discipline policies).

The idea that teacher learning is to conform to a singular view of education is problematic. It implies that the best teachers can be molded using some sort of formula and that they "follow the rules." Instead, we know that some of the best teachers go against the grain. We know that they do not always fit in with the instructional or institutional norms around them. We know that they take pedagogical and curricular risks. Moreover, we know that the educational system is not equitable; the best teachers also work against that inequity. They center their work on social justice and ensuring that all their students are challenged and supported. They engage in culturally relevant pedagogy. Teachers need to be agents of change in their classroom around issues of pedagogy and curriculum, as well as fairness and equity more broadly.

Second, the word training means "to prepare" through "exercise" usually for some sort of test (such as an athlete trains for the Olympics). This view of teacher training portrays teaching as not involving intellectual flexibility or continual adaption to changing conditions (granted, teachers are like Olympians in many other ways). I will use the example of a driving license as an example; once a person passes a road test then the state says they have the skills necessary for operating a car. Within this logic, a teacher should be able to pass a test or some other sort of benchmark, and then they will have most of the knowledge necessary for teaching.

The idea that teacher learning can be mastered by repeated practice or that quality teaching can be easily measured is problematic. It implies that we know what certain behaviors teachers need to be effective. Instead, we know that measuring quality teaching is not only very difficult, but even the definition of quality teaching is highly contested. We also know that teacher learning continues to occur well beyond teacher preparation and that it involves continually adapting to new sets of conditions, such as changing students, teaching methods, or curricula. There is no one test or benchmark that says someone has mastered (or is even proficient) in teaching.

Third, the word training means "bending, pruning, and tying"; this is clearly a definition intended for gardening. However, it is still applicable to this argument. If we use the analogy of a tree to describe how a teacher grows, we would want to avoid "training" teachers in this sense as well.

The idea that teacher learning is something that can be forced in a certain way (like the gardening of plants) is problematic. It implies that teachers need to be shaped by others. Instead, teachers are the drivers of their own professional learning. There is evidence that the most meaningful teacher professional development involves learning collectively and collaborating with peers. At the same time, teachers are impacted by the decisions of others. They do not get to control the level of social programs available to their students or the amount of resources available to their schools. In many ways, like trees, teachers may feel as if they are constantly being figuratively bent, pruned, or tied by others in their day-to-day work. I see this with the preservice teachers who I teach, but also among the experienced teachers whom I work work with (I have documented some of this in my longitudinal research on teacher development; see here and here). Many teachers today identify an over-emphasis on standardized test scores, prescribed mandated curriculum, a lack of resources, and schools without dedicated time for social studies, science, art, or music, as stunting their professional growth (similar to how this definition of training influences, perhaps even stunts, the growth of trees).

While there may be some professions where training describes their professional learning (i.e. auto mechanic, athlete), it is not the case for teachers.

What Is Education and Why Make a Distinction?

I am certainly not the first to draw a distinction between training and education. Outside teaching, many people have made this distinction about their fields (see one here from business or one here from the military). In fact, this same argument was made by G. Patrick O'Neill's article in his McGill Journal of Education back in 1986. He argued that education, not training, best depicted the intellectual, emotional, and social development that teachers undergo (and that teacher training and teacher education should no longer be used interchangeably).

My purpose in this post is to raise awareness and hopefully lead teachers and teacher educators to stop using the term "teacher training," and instead use "teacher education" or more specifically "teacher preparation," "teacher development," or "teacher learning" as the terms to describe how teachers learn.

Merriam Webster defines education as 
1: the action or process of educating or of being educated; the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated

Education is a much more applicable term for what teachers experience as they learn (and continue to learn) to teach. It represents a much more complex process. It makes clear that it happens over time (perhaps over a lifetime or career). It is not some that comes from rote memorization or repeated behaviors, but rather development that occurs before and during the practice of teaching.

Of course, all professions involve some level of both training and education. Teaching is no different. However, it requires much more education than training to be successful. For instance, teachers must be trained to use a grade submission web portal, how to search the Internet efficiently for resources, or about their school's procedures for dealing with problematic student behaviors. Yet, these types of trainings are not usually (and should not be) the focus of teacher preparation programs, as they would not prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom and all of the complex variables that teachers need to consider and address.

Problematically, several new teacher preparation programs have actually bought into the assumptions embedded in "teacher training" and have built their courses around the behaviors or repeated practice that they believe make an effective teacher (interestingly, these preparation programs also view the learning of PreK-12 students in a similar way). One of the best example of this is the Relay Graduate School of Education, which NYC principal Carol Burris analyzes quite well here (notice even the author falls into the "teacher training" trap in the title, when I think she means education-as she makes clear throughout the article).

Teaching requires an education that helps develop teachers' critical thinking around how should students be assessed on their learning (or should we even have grades), how to design a well-crafted lesson plans or adapt another person's curricular materials, or understand the complex psychology that underpins students' behaviors and possible ways to support all of their students (including considering if school discipline procedures may be inequitable for certain students).

We cannot not simply train teachers, as if teaching is a simple set of tasks and behaviors. Instead, teachers must understand both the art and science of learning, so they can be continually adjusting their teaching practice and engaging in their work as intellectuals. As one writer analogized it, "Don’t just teach him how to catch a fish. Educate [them] about the art and science of fishing." Teachers must not only be prepared for the basic tasks they must perform in the classroom, but for everything else that happens around those. It is about how a teacher creates and assembles lessons, not memorizing the parts of a lesson plan template. It is about how a teacher challenges their students to think about perspectives or ideas that they have not considered, not using the best method for having students call out answers.

This is certainly not a new debate. Education has long had a division between those who work from behaviorist and constructivist perspectives. Each philosophy has different concepts for how to build an educational system that best educates students. Subsequently, that same debate has also persisted within teacher education. Teacher training is much more aligned with a behaviorist view of learning to teach, while teacher education better describes how constructivist-oriented teacher educators understand their work.

Why Is This Important?

Language is important as it frame how we understand the world. This is especially true for the language that we use to explain teaching and learning. As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) reminded us, the language often used in education oversimplifies the process of teacher learning and practice. It often frames learning in terms of a basic transmission from teaching to student (which it is not), or in the case of teacher education, from teacher educator to teacher. This has all sorts of negative ramifications on how the general public or politicians (who make laws about teaching and learning) think about education. I find particularly compelling Kevin Kumashiro's argument that these misconceptions about teaching and learning have become so taken-for-granted that they are seen by many as common sense, and that they have been used for political, rather than educational means. For instance, conservative educational thinkers have used these common sense framings to shape the current educational conversation (and ultimately influence the current system) within their view.

As I said at the beginning, this is a PSA. My hope is that I influence a few more more people to stop use teacher training (I know it is an uphill battle), and especially to stop using it simultaneously with teacher education, or teacher preparation, or teacher development. I hope that this can encourage a more important conversation about how we view teacher education, teachers, and, ultimately, the students they work with.
 
 Above: A recent group of graduates from the BU Social Studies Education Program. I'd like to think we helped educate, not trained, them to be great teachers.





Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Teaching Immigration

Above: The Great Hall and the "pens" at Ellis Island Immigration Station.

"The United States is a country of immigrants." While this statement is only partially accurate (as it does not recognize that many Americans are either ancestors of the first people to inhabit this land or were forced to come here as a result of slavery), it is certainly routinely stated in U.S. history classrooms (and the media). Immigration has long played a prominent and positive role in the quest-for-freedom narrative template of American history (For more on narrative templates, see the work of James Wertsch here, here, and here). Using this narrative template, students (and people) place events within a larger story that the United States was established to help people escape oppression elsewhere and join a nation that is constantly striving to protect individual freedom here (See the Neil Diamond song "America" for a good example of this (video below), past presidential speeches on immigration issues, or most textbook chapters on the topic).


Of course, we know that the American story is much more complex and that for many groups this nation was the vehicle of their oppression. Immigrants have long been used to create hysteria and further certain political goals. Perhaps dating to the United States' founding (including statements by Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton-yes, the guy from "that musical" and an immigrant himself), anti-immigrant propaganda has been spread through the media and politicians have used it as a wedge issue (including in party platforms) Recently, despite large declines in undocumented immigration, reducing immigration became the signature campaign promise of Donald Trump's campaign. As I write this, there is a standoff between the President and Congress over the funding of a Mexican border wall expansion, which has partially closed the federal government (now the longest in history and also widely unpopular with the American people).

How should teachers approach immigration during these troubling times for immigrants? Without a doubt, the current president's rhetoric and action has made teaching this part of the American story much more complex. Unlike previous presidents, Trump does not describe this debate as part of our ethos as nation of immigrants ("but also laws," which they always add) and within that time-honored quest-for-freedom narrative template, as Clinton, Bush, or Obama did. He does not present the experiences of present day immigrants as their attempt to seek freedom here from oppression elsewhere (interestingly, as Trump's own ancestors did, when they immigrated from Germany and Scotland to the United States).

Considering this historical and political context, in this post, I explore possible ways that teachers might present immigrants and immigration, so that it helps students have a more complex understanding of the nation's past and how that influences the present.

Above: Downtown Framingham, which has long been an immigrant community.

However, I should note that this topic is very personal for me. For most of my career as a high school social studies teacher, I taught in Framingham, Massachusetts (above). Framingham is a former factory town and historical hub for immigrants. First, it was the English (who settled on Nipmuc land), then the Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans, migrants from Puerto Rico, and today it is home to many newcomers from Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Every year when I taught U.S. history, I attempted to present a story of migration that began with the Indigenous people and then eventually waves outsiders in different periods that continued to the present day. The overarching question that I wanted my students to answer was, has the United States been a nation of freedom for migrants/immigrants (and, if so, for whom and when)?

 
Above: (Left) My great grandfather (with hat; as a child standing behind his tenement in Holyoke, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Québec in Canada and (Right) my great grandmother (on right, in an family portrait taken in Chicopee, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Galicia in Poland.

I also approach this topic as a descendant of immigrants. My ancestors came to Massachusetts from Québec (and before that from France) and Poland. Whether it was taking trains south from Montréal to work in the paper mills of Holyoke or taking a boat and arriving at Ellis Island to later join relatives working in the factories of Ludlow and Springfield, my ancestors bought into the quest-for-freedom narrative. They benefited from the United States. They found stable work and housing (as they were barely surviving as farmers in Québec and Poland at the turn of the 20th century). However, they were also discriminated against because of their ethnicity and language once they came here (I have found numerous examples of family members who were listed in census records as child laborers; my relatives were often told in Canada and the U.S. to "speak White," which meant speak English). At the same time, especially for my French Canadian ancestors, they were settlers and colonizers who took land and killed Native people (which is an important part of the story that must also be acknowledged). As a White American, it is essential that I examine the positive and negative impacts of my family's journey here.

Based on my experiences as a teacher (and teacher educator) working in immigrant communities, and descendant of immigrants myself, I argue that teachers should consider three important ideas when teaching immigration in their social studies classrooms.

1. Migration/Immigration Should Be Taught Across the U.S. History Curriculum

While immigration occurred throughout much of American history, the topic is often studied by students only during units on antebellum and postbellem industrialism (and this is reinforced by state standards). While those periods were certainly important (and when many White Americans, as well as some Asian and Latinas/os trace their family's first journeys here), it is only one of the major waves of immigration. By only studying immigration in those periods, it neglects a longer historical arc of immigration.

Above: Migrants/immigrants not from the turn of the 20th century; (above) a painting of the Mayflower, which brought English immigrants, and (below) a plane bringing maids from Puerto Rico to New York.

It is essential that teachers portray the people who came as the result of English (Spanish, French, Dutch, etc.) colonization as immigrants. Otherwise, students may consider these groups as the original people here (erasing the millenniums of Native history before them). It is also important to incorporate the history of forced migrants from Africa into the larger narrative of immigration and make clear ways that enslaved peoples' experiences contrasted to those of immigrants (as the two are rarely presented this way, it may even lead some to see their experiences as tantamount, as we have seen written in some textbooks or described in politicians' speeches). It also prevents students from seeing that forced migrants' and immigrants' experiences were related. While plantation owners forced enslaved people (and later exploited their ancestors through sharecropping) to produce raw materials in the South, factory owners exploited immigrants in the factories that made finished products from those same materials.

2. Migration/Immigration is Not Only in the Past

While immigration is often taught as a historical topic, it is less likely to be taught as a current day political, economic, or geographic one. However, immigration has a strong impact on our current and future society. The nation relies on immigration economically and socially. Immigrants have influenced American culture (including our music, art, and sciences) and how we understand our political system. For many Americans, our identities are often closely related to our ancestors' origins. Unlike other nations were the vast majority of people share the same ethnicity, our cultural diversity is at the heart of who we are as a nation. Yet, teaching immigration as an event of the past may leave students with a sense that historical immigration is in no way connected to the people who come today and the people who will come in the future.

Above: A picture of the Rally for Immigrants, Washington, D.C. in 2013.

It is important for teachers to make regular connections between past and present immigration and immigrant groups. First, it helps students see that immigrants faced some similar experiences, yet it can also help them see how not all eras of immigration were the same. They will be able to see that certain immigrant groups may have had more or less political and social power depending on their group and the period (for instance, English settlers in colonial New England had a very different experience (were able to take Native land and establish their own governments and communities) than Latina/o immigrants today (who are dramatically underrepresented in the local or national governments). Second, it may allow some students to develop a sense of empathy or solidarity with present immigrant groups based on their families' or ancestors' immigrant experiences. My first teaching job was at a Catholic high school in Boston, where a large percentage of students were of Irish descent. There was clearly a significant amount of Irish pride within the student body and I was often able to engage the students in immigration studies by having them compare and contrast the Irish immigrant experience with the experiences of other immigrant groups. Within this, it is also important to continually bring in the role of race, class, and gender in the immigrant experience, by helping students see that immigrants often face intersecting oppression depending on who they are and where they came from.

This would also be an important place for teachers to discuss the differences between migrants and immigrants. While migration is a broad term that describes any group that moves from one place to another (it can include the ancestors of present day Native people, people who were forced to come to the United States through the slave trade, or Central American refugees fleeing crime or violence in their homeland), immigration implies migration withe specific intent on settling in a new place. Immigration often implies voluntary and with the expectation that is will most likely be permanent.

3. Make Migration/Immigration Personal for Students

People researching their own genealogy is possibly more popular than ever. With the digitizing of government records, it is now easier than ever to trace your family's records (See U.S. Census records, Ellis Island passenger records, slavery records, Freedman Bureau records, Japanese American WWII relocation and incarceration records, ancestry.com, and Mormon Church ancestry records). Since many of these records are free, it is easier now to have students investigate their family's histories in school. Moreover, students can benefit from assignments that have them interview family members about their family histories and their relatives experiences during certain historical events. For most Americans, genealogy research will expose immigrant or migrant histories; it can help them learn when and how their relatives came here from Asia or Europe, or trace their migration from Black communities in the South to the North and their ancestors slave or freedom status.


Teachers should consider engaging their students in critical family histories, which research their immigration stories, but also their ancestors forced migration (through slavery and Indian reservation and board school records) or involvement in colonization. This is the best way to help students realize their personal and family connections to the immigrant experience and the role that discrimination or privilege may have played into it. Christine Sleeter has described critical family histories as an attempt to situate your individual family stories within a wider analysis of social power relationships and culture.

My hope is that if we better have students examine a much more complex story of immigration, then as citizens, they will be better informed around the immigration-related issues that arise. It is difficult to understand the present, without understanding the past. This is especially true when it related to the topic of immigration.