Wanted: Professional Teachers

HENRY H. HILL began teaching over forty years ago, and thereafter he served as a superintendent of schools in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. For the past fifteen years, as President of the George Peabody College for Teachers, by his influence and his integrity he has helped to shape the careers of thousands of young teachers. He is today president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.



WHEN I began teaching in September, 1916, my assignment in a small four-year high school was to teach all English and Latin classes, involving eight separate lesson preparations daily. Almost any fragment of professional education would have been helpful, for I had none. At the end of four years I was perhaps a passable English teacher and above average as a Latin teacher, but many students suffered poor teaching during the quadrennium. I do not want anybody in the future to begin as I did.

What professional education should I have had in 1916, prior to teaching English and Latin? Observation and practice teaching under supervision would have been the best professional preparation. Some methodology of teaching high school students and an elementary knowledge of adolescents in general would have been helpful.

How much time is needed for professional preparation? Perhaps one semester out of the eight normally required for college graduation. Once the necessity and desirability of professional training are granted, the kind and length are a fair debate. At George Peabody College for Teachers we have tried different plans and shall continue to offer variations. No one knows precisely how best to prepare teachers, but we do know that any one of several different plans is better than no plan at all. A bright and energetic person will learn how to teach if he keeps trying. The primary objective of professional education is to shorten this learning period.

Since 1950, twenty Carnegie fellowships of $1000 each have been awarded annually to selected liberal arts graduates from many states for four quarters of additional study at Peabody, leading to the master of arts degree, in a program designed to attract more of the able liberal arts students into teaching. The first five years of the program proved so successful that the Carnegie Corporation made an additional $100,000 available to continue the program for five more years. Carnegie fellows must be recommended for admission by their undergraduate liberal arts colleges. The four quarters of study at Peabody are tailored to suit their needs. One half of the work of these students is professional training, including weekly seminars to broaden their horizons and expose their prejudices to free debate and discussion. The 160 graduates to date have been much in demand and have experienced no certification difficulties in the twenty states in which they accepted positions.

For three years, Peabody and Vanderbilt University, with the support of the Ford Fund, provided fellowships to liberal arts graduates for four quarters of additional study leading to the unique Peabody-Vanderbilt master of arts in teaching degree — half the work in subject matter at Vanderbilt and the other half in professional education at Peabody. This program attracted able candidates who secured excellent teaching positions.

Peabody also offers a somewhat typical fouryear undergraduate curriculum leading to a teaching career. The program consists of three or three and one half years of liberal arts or general education with about two quarters of professional education. About one third of the candidates take practice teaching in the Peabody demonstration school, with a selected and limited enrollment of 500; another third in the Nashville city schools, with an enrollment of 30,000; and another third in the Davidson county schools, with an enrollment of 40,000. Thus, a wide range of opportunity for observation and practice is provided. In its general purpose, the campus laboratory school is similar to the teaching hospital of a medical school. It is costly, and for this reason liberal arts colleges usually do not provide campus schools.

FROM their beginning, teachers’ colleges and the colleges of education in state universities have been criticized. They have occupied what might be referred to as the lowest pecking order among the academic hens. As always, the Greeks have enjoyed criticizing the barbarians.

It was the failure of the uneducated and untrained teachers that caused educational reformers, starting with Horace Mann, to press first for normal schools and later for teachers’ colleges, with higher requirements of preparation prior to teaching. To raise standards from eighth-grade graduation to high school completion and, in turn, to two years of college and then to college graduation has been a continuing struggle, sometimes against the opposition of both the uneducated and the conservative liberal arts graduates.

Many liberal arts spokesmen then insisted, as some do today, that to teach the first grade, the fifth grade, or high school English, it is necessary only to have the proper number of hours in subject matter in a liberal arts college.

Speaking before the American Council on Education in 1958, President Virgil Hancher of the State University of Iowa made this pertinent comment:

When in the eighteen seventies and eighties and nineties the learned doctors and professors of our universities and colleges felt it beneath their dignity to prepare teachers for the common schools, the need was met by the proliferation of normal schools and teachers colleges throughout the land. . . . Nor should we expect the current need to lie met by the transitory interest of the learned doctors and professors. It would be a glorious prospect if they could be expected to concern themselves in a long range program for the improvement of the schools. But they will not. Neither their professional interests nor their prprofessional advancement, by the criteria which they themselves have set, lie in that quarter.

Within five years most if not all of the present critics among them will have returned to Beowulf or Chaucer or the political policies of Sir Robert Walpole or the causes of the French Revolution or the peaceful uses of atomic power; and high school teachers of English and social studies and science will again find it necessary to turn to the professional educationists who are their only constant and true friends in time of need.

From the day when George Peabody College for Teachers was established on its new campus in 1914, many thousands of teachers have come to secure methodology and additional subject matter. To say that a teachers’ college offers only methodology is just about as ridiculous as to say that liberal arts colleges offer only liberal arts. Everybody knows that liberal arts colleges offer football, basketball, extracurricular activities, fraternities, fun, and whatnot. Most teachers’ colleges offer a liberal education.

It is true that professional education frequently is boring, chiefly because it is practical, and the neophyte candidate for teaching is without experience and has few real questions to ask. The study of torts in a law school and the tedium of dissecting a dead body in a medical school would hardly seem inspirational—just necessary. The critical question concerning a course in pedagogy is whether it is necessary and helpful to the candidate for teaching.

The National Council of Independent Schools at a recent meeting identified four essential elements necessary in the preparation of teachers for their schools. Since no law requires certification in private schools, the list is significant:

1. A first-rate liberal education

2. Advanced study in the field to be taught

3. Systematic study of education and its problems

4. Practice teaching under expert supervision. Few educationists would quarrel with this wellstated list. I agree entirely.

The chief drawback of the teachers’ colleges, perhaps a factor in their rapid disappearance, is the fact that not many high school graduates are, at the time of graduation, planning to be teachers. Teaching has not been a particularly glamorous field. Most of the former teachers’ colleges that have dropped the name have become something else — multipurpose colleges, general colleges, or liberal arts colleges. On the whole, I am in sympathy with this trend. The teachers’ colleges will be few in number a decade hence, but if their successors retain a serious commitment of interest and money in teacher education, they may provide a broader cultural and social base and perhaps attract abler persons to teaching. If, on the other hand, they become average and humdrum arts colleges and lose their interest in teachers, another generation will have to start teachers’ colleges all over again.

THERE is growing flexibility in state regulations for certification. The New York State Department of Education, after careful investigation, granted our Ford fellowship graduates “equivalent status,” a recognition that our unique Ford program was equivalent to the New York state requirements for certification. Granting of equivalency status to newer and better programs seems a wise venture.

In 1958 the West Virginia State Board of Education approved the use of the National Teacher’s Examination for the purpose of certificating teacher applicants who either have received a baccalaureate degree from an approved college but whose college preparation does not meet regular certification course requirements either with respect to professional courses or to courses in subject matter areas, or who already hold certificates in certain subject fields and desire to qualify for certification in additional fields.

This plan is directed toward enabling graduates of approved liberal arts colleges to earn teaching certificates, even though they have not taken all of the regularly required courses for such certificates, and to provide teachers certificated in one field with the opportunity to earn certification in additional fields.

Approximately 50 per cent of the candidates passed the first examination given in October, 1958, and about the same percentage of the 300 who took the examination in 1959 passed. Three examinations are scheduled annually. Thus, a few capable candidates gain legal entrance to the profession through this plan, which answers some of the criticism of state certification. It seems a desirable option.

There are, of course, both amateur and professional teachers. The chief difference is that professional teachers are in teaching for life or for an extended period. They are career teachers.

Casual teachers teach from one to five years, often are good, just as often are average or poor, and quit for both good and bad reasons. Some, when they quit, blame certification requirements, colleges of education, or this hoodlum generation in general. They contribute little, and they leave soon. The amateur quits if the assignment does not suit her or if her individual ideals are not met.

The professional teacher accepts difficult assignments and does the best she can. It takes a professional to deal with all the different qualities in the thirty-five or more children assembled in the fifth grade and to do it every day in the week. It is not a job for a person who is critical of teaching and children or one who wants everything just right before she will teach.

Dr. George Strayer, professor emeritus of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, tells the story of a second-grade group in one of the metropolitan areas of New York who one spring day went on a picnic along the Palisades of the Hudson. Next day they were asked to write what they did and what they had seen. One little boy wrote, “We crossed a bridge, walked into the country, climbed a hill, and then came back again.” But a little girl composed a poem:

Old King Winter still held the land
In the cold, cold grip of his frosty hand,
But a little crocus puts forth its head
From out its cold and icy bed.
The crocus said, “My, my, it’s cold.
I wish I had not been so bold;
But still I’m glad that I bring joy
When all my beauty I employ.”

Both of these children are entitled to the best the teacher has to offer them, but it takes a teacher with imagination and vision and training to be able to guide, stimulate, and lead these two children and others who may differ just as much.

There are some excellent teachers in private schools who have had no professional courses in education. If this were not the case, then we might indeed despair of the teaching that goes on in our engineering schools, medical schools, and other places where there is seldom any specially organized practice teaching. The job of these teachers, however, is quite different from that of the teacher in the average public school.

The brightness of students in private schools and selected universities is somewhat exaggerated, but, by and large, they are a bright group. It would be difficult to find a teacher dull enough to keep most of them from learning. It is much easier to succeed as a teacher, or to fail as a teacher without attracting attention, when you are dealing with select groups who are highly motivated and over whom you have the power of academic and professional life and death. In engineering and medical schools, the students have to please their instructors, whether the instructors are good or bad. But when all of the children who are average and below average are commingled with the bright, all in one room or situation, it challenges the patience and understanding and skill of a professional. I doubt whether a distinguished college professor could stand the gaff.

During the summer of 1958, our justly famous admiral of submarines was quoted as calling attention to the fact that a distinguished college president and an equally distinguished physicist were ineligible to teach in the public high schools. A columnist professor in a newspaper noted in similar vein that the best professors in certain liberal arts colleges would not be permitted to teach in public high schools. One might say, “Thank goodness!" For why should they teach in elementary or secondary schools without first making an effort to learn how best to do it? The assumption that a great scholar or scientist or general would be, ipso facto, a good public school teacher is sheer nonsense.

TEACHING is the only profession that accepts and welcomes nearly all those who want to tollow it with only minimal acquaintance with methodology. It is rather ridiculous to regard a bare hallyear of requirements, or a whole year, for that matter, as being seriously restrictive. The teaching profession should be intelligently more, and not less, restrictive. I agree with some analysts that restriction at the beginning to persons of aboveaverage talents would do more good than any casual shifting of requirements or lengthening of years from four to five or six.

I think we are approaching a reasonable policy in regard to discipline and mastery of subject matter. During my lifetime we have swung from a disciplinary and scholarly approach over to the progressive theories of John Dewey, with some infusion of non-Dewey ideas produced by the Dewey cultists, down to the present, when we are approaching a more rational and balanced program. Enough change to secure a better balance and accept more openly and freely the fundamentals of character and application and mastery is to be commended, but not a return to unnecessarily harsh and harmful practices of a generation ago.

The biggest delusion our critics have is the assumption that if certification were removed, the liberal arts graduates would flock to teaching. A candidate who is stopped from teaching by hall a year of professional study is not very serious about teaching nor does she have much respect for teaching as a profession. Four years of attendance at college today is such a limited exposure to our common culture that it is hardly more than an introduction to learning and life.

We educationists in colleges have been in many cases no wiser than our opposite numbers in the liberal arts faculties. We have proliferated courses when there was no great necessity for doing so. On occasion we have been interested in numbers to the detriment of quality. We have, in a sense, been victimized by the philosophy we have been taught and have practiced; namely, that every boy and girl should have an opportunity to succeed in school. It is very easy to go from this sound idea to the extreme of letting college students, including those who plan to teach, get by with low achievement.

We should organize fewer and better courses. We should teach well those professional requirements most useful in helping the brand-new teacher avoid serious mistakes. At Peabody we are trying to eliminate unjustifiable duplication of courses and content. I recall a one-man Latin department in a state university that offered twenty-eight courses in Latin and Greek. We educationists cannot match that, but at times we do something almost as indefensible.

The National Conference of the National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards met in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1958. There, for four days, the academic professors and the educationists had it out. One invited delegate — a scientist—commented that the “important thing I think we are all agreed on after this conference is that the liberal arts undergraduate preparation of teachers must be on a par with other professions . . . and, secondly, that we need a complete re-examination of all courses subject matter and education courses — available to teachers. It’s good we have been able to talk things out here intellectually — and not emotionally.” More such meetings would be helpful.

The teaching profession until recently has welcomed large numbers into its ranks, in sharp contrast with the medical profession, which limits the number of doctors. There are medical schools which produce no more doctors than they did in 1950 or in 1940. I do not contend that we should imitate the medical profession in this respect, but it is foolish to think that we shall ever have the kind of teaching profession we need without additional standards and requirements.

We need to attract a greater number of able young men and women to the profession of teaching. We need and shall continue to have teacher certification to provide an orderly entrance into the profession. The specific requirements may well be debated or modified, but to return to a time when certification was weak or unorganized or lacking is unthinkable and, I hope, impossible.