A Blueprint for Preparing Teachers: Producing the Best Educators for Our Children
reviewed by Dan Butin - April 20, 2016
Title: A Blueprint for Preparing Teachers: Producing the Best Educators for Our Children
Author(s): Marie Menna Pagliaro
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475824696, Pages: 146, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com
Dan Lortie coined the phrase apprenticeship of observation in his classic book Schoolteacher (1975) to describe why everyone feels they can teach; specifically, because we have all spent thousands of hours observing our own teachers engage in instruction. This is one of the fundamental issues that makes teacher preparation so difficult, as we must work against years of implicit socialization that the practice of teaching is as simple to understand and enact as what we have all experienced. How hard can it be? asks every critic and student. Hard indeed. It is exactly this attempt at understanding the practical and conceptual complexity of building powerful teacher preparation programs that has driven the last twenty years of my academic and administrative life. How do I help undergraduate and graduate students realize that mastering the art and science of teaching is far more difficult than simply good intentions and intuitions? How do I make visible and break down deeply embedded assumptions about teaching and learning to forge new and more successful models?
I had thus been hopeful that A Blueprint for Preparing Teachers: Producing the Best Educators for Our Children might provide a concise and helpful model for anyone interested in implementing and supporting these types of programs. Unfortunately, while this book has its positive attributes, it seems to reinforce rather than transform our vision of what teacher preparation should be. Author Marie Menna Pagliaros experiences end up implicitly guiding, and constraining, the vision of her text.
The book begins with three short chapters on the history, problems, and importance of teacher education and then spends six chapters describing how to design a teacher education consortium of stakeholders. Such a consortium functions in enrolling candidates in a program, developing the curriculum and instruction, and facilitating ongoing professional development. At the heart of Pagliaros vision is this consortium, comprised of faculty, administrators, union reps, students, business owners, and community members all working together to develop teacher education.
The articulation of this consortium is emblematic of how Pagliaro handles many other issues throughout the book: as an important point that lacks context or guidance. I am deeply appreciative of the notion of an inclusive committee tasked with creating a meaningful preparation program that meets distinct and diverse stakeholders needs. Yet I am befuddled as to how such a committee might actually work, as there are no examples, case studies, or even snippets from her own experience of how this type of large and diverse group with seemingly different goals and agendas would actually function.
A similar point can be made when Pagliaro suggests that professors in liberal arts should become aware of students having problems on the general knowledge sections of state licensure exams so that they could adjust their own courses (p. 54). This is an important issue and one that I tried for many years to solve, but with limited success. How exactly would she suggest this be done? Or when she argues that majors [for students seeking teacher licensure] in psychology and sociology will be avoided (p. 62), or that all instructors who teach the same course will use the same syllabus (p. 73), or that the education division head sets the tone of professionalism . . . [by answering the question of] how instructors, other college professors, and teachers in public schools should dress (p. 103). While I can understand the impetus for some of these ideas, I wish that there was more clarity on how to think about, discuss, and implement these ideas, especially when they bump against strong faculty beliefs regarding academic freedom and autonomy.
The problem is that Pagliaro does not delve deeply or thoroughly enough into the issues she raises. Perhaps she wants to offer a breezy tour through a complicated landscape. But being breezy only works if the issues are settled or clearly and concisely articulated. Unfortunately, this is not the case throughout the book as Pagliaro often shortchanges the topics she discusses. For example, she spends just three pages and uses just a single source (Labaree, 2008), from which she paraphrases liberally, on the history of teacher education, or when an entire chapter, Why Teacher Education Matters, is just two pages long.
There is nothing wrong with being brief, but this only works if the reader trusts the author with getting the issues right. Again, this is unfortunately not the case. For example, there are numerous small but embarrassing errors that undermine the development of trust. Pagliaro tells future teachers to be aware of organizations that promote teacher knowledge (p. 71) and then mistakes ASCD as the American Society for Curriculum Development, when in fact it is the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. She also tells readers to look at relevant subject specialty groups of the National Teacher Association (p. 71). Is she referring to the National Education Association (NEA), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), or the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE)? The National Teacher Association, according to its website (http://www.ntadance.com), was founded to promote Country Western dancing.
There are also lapses of professional knowledge. For example, Pagliaro conflates checklists and rubrics, which are two very different things. A checklist is just a list, though Pagliaro consistently mislabels them as rubrics (see p. 53, pp. 84-85), whereas a rubric has a scale with explicit narrative attributes for each level of performance. She mischaracterizes the difference between goals and objectives, stating that the main difference is the length of time before they are achieved (see p. 73). However, goals are intentionally aspirational, whereas objectives are actionable and measurable. She also mistakenly characterizes blended learning as using technology in the classroom.
There are multiple academic missteps as well. For example, Pagliaro mischaracterizes key research on teacher preparation by claiming that, the teacher is the most significant factor in student achievement (p. x). This is inaccurate, as the research is clear that the teacher is but the most significant in-school variable, with numerous out-of-school variables (e.g., poverty, race, English language proficiency) deeply impacting learner achievement. She also makes numerous unsubstantiated claims on complex issues. Pagliaro seems to agree with some of the fields most vociferous critics that college students have been taught what to think, not how to think (p. 21) and that education professors just need to accept that it is now settled that direct instruction is the best teaching method, that phonics is far superior to whole language instruction, and that supporting social justice pedagogy is particularly disturbing (pp. 16-17). Statements without context, analysis, or nuance are academically dubious.
These problems bring me to a more troubling issue. I found multiple occasions where Pagliaro cuts and pastes other peoples text without correct attribution. In some cases it is sort of innocuous, as when she quotes verbatim an entire paragraph defining critical thinking from http://www.criticalthinking.org and simply provides an end-of-paragraph citation. In some other cases it is just strange, such as when she provides a seemingly made-up transcript of an interview with a teachers union president (p. 56), which I found verbatim buried deep in the comments section of a 2010 Washington Post blog (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/winners-and-losers/super-duper-tuesday-the-winner.html), or when she titles a section Sample: One Type of Reflective Document for Candidates in order to support students reflection and then, without attribution, offers three pages (pp. 48-51) that seem to be cut and pasted from the first chapter of her own previous book (Pagliaro, 2013).
I believe Pagliaro sorely underplays the power of teacher preparation and the difficulty of creating such programs. We actually have a fairly decent understanding of what constitutes powerful teacher preparation. There are exemplary best practices, enticing cutting edge ideas, and deep conceptual understanding of what is possible (e.g., Arnett, 2015; Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2010; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2007; NCATE, 2010). The hard part, as anyone and everyone who has spent any time in higher education knows, is how to actually design, develop, and implement such programs in real time with real people and constraining conditions. What is desperately needed, for our students and ourselves, is movement from a passive apprenticeship of observation model to an active design process of reverse-engineering our own education. Thats what we need blueprints for and where this book falls short.
Arnett, T. (2015). Startup teacher education: A fresh take on teacher credentialing. Cambridge, MA: Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Zeichner, K. M. (Eds.). (2010). Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education. New York, NY: Routledge.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. (2007). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Labaree, D. F. (2008). An uneasy relationship: The history of teacher education in the university. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, & J. McIntyre (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring issues in changing contexts (3rd ed.) (pp. 290306). Washington, DC: Association of Teacher Educators.
Lortie, D. C., (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (2010). Transforming teacher education through clinical practice: A national strategy to prepare effective teachers. Washington, DC: Author.
Pagliaro, M. M. (2013). Academic success: Applying learning theory in the classroom. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.