How do teachers learn to teach? My guests today, Maria Teresa Tatto and Ian Menter, discuss the many paths to become a teacher in England and the USA and the policy environment that is shaping current practice.
Learning to be a teacher, they argue, requires much more than simply having a lot of content knowledge. Just because you may know math really well does not mean that you would be a good math teach. Teaching is a skill that must be systematically learned and practiced.
Together with Katharine Burn, Trevor Mutton, and Ian Thompson, Teresa and Ian have a new co-written book entitled Learning to Teach in England and the United States: The Evolution of Policy and Practice, which was published by Routledge earlier this year.
Maria Teresa Tatto is Professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University, and the Southwest Borderlands Professor of Comparative Education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Ian Menter is Emeritus Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.
Citation: Tatto, Maria Teresa & Menter, Ian, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 109, podcast audio, March 26, 2018. https://freshedpodcast.com/tatto-menter/
Will Brehm 2:00
Maria Teresa Tatto and Ian Menter, welcome to FreshEd.
Maria Teresa Tatto 2:03
Thank you, Will. I’m very happy to be here talking with you about our book.
Ian Menter 2:09
And so am I. I happen to be in Arizona with Maria Teresa at the moment. So, we’re close together but talking to you quite a long way away.
Will Brehm 2:19
I want to jump into your new book -congratulations, by the way. You know, thinking about the different pathways that one can become a teacher in England and the USA. So, you know, what are the different ways that people become teachers in England?
Ian Menter 2:35
Well, in England, traditionally, during the second half of the 20th century, they would apply to a university or college and seek to enter either a one-year graduate program, or a three or four-year degree program, and qualify as a teacher if they got through that program successfully. But over the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve seen many new pathways opening up, some of which don’t involve universities in the way that the traditional programs did. And some of which are actually employment-based, so that beginning teachers are employed by a school rather than being registered with a university. And so, in fact, a colleague of ours calculated that there are now 38 different ways in which you can become a teacher in England. So, it’s quite a myriad of routes compared with what it was in the last part of the 20th century.
Will Brehm 3:41
And how does that compare to the USA?
Maria Teresa Tatto 3:44
In the US, in contrast with England, close to 80% of those who want to become teachers enroll in traditional routes in colleges of education in higher education institutions. In the mid-1990s, the so-called alternative routes began to emerge. And we now have about 20% of the teachers who become teachers enroll in those routes. For example, the most notable are Teach for America, or the ABCTE program of the program of the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence and also the TNTP Teaching Fellows, for instance, they operate in several states in the US. There are other more local programs, but you know, in general, to answer your question, most still enroll and become teachers through traditional routes.
Will Brehm 4:46
And so, these alternative routes like Teach for America, this is where one would receive a teaching certification outside of teacher colleges?
Maria Teresa Tatto 4:58
Well, some Teach for America students cooperate with colleges so that there is joint collaboration there. However, there are other possibilities in which there is a short period of preparation in comparison to traditional routes. And people can become certified to become a teacher.
Ian Menter 5:23
In England, the situation is quite similar in that, in most routes, although there are a great number of them. Most routes have some involvement of a university or a higher education institution. There are very few teachers still who actually qualify without any engagement with higher education. But the kind of proportional contribution of higher education has been reduced on a number of these new routes.
Will Brehm 5:54
And is there something like Teach for America in England?
Ian Menter 5:59
Yes, indeed. We have our very own Teach First program, which started in 2002 and has expanded steadily since then. It was originally modeled on Teach for America but is quite different in many particular respects. It is taking now, somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 entrants every year. It is moved into the primary school sector as well as the secondary school sector. But it retains its original aim of placing bright, young trainee teachers in schools, which are facing major challenges and seeking not only to produce great teachers, but to have an impact on those schools and improve the quality of education there. So, it’s always been an ambitious program. And there have been some very successful teachers who have emerged from it. But it has quite seriously challenged the role of the university in preparing people for teaching.
Will Brehm 7:08
Overall, are people who are joining the teaching force, is that number increasing or decreasing in the USA and in England?
Maria Teresa Tatto 7:17
In the US, it’s decreasing. I will quote something from a national survey of college freshmen. In 2016, the number of students who say they would major in education has reached its lowest point in 45 years. Just 4.2% intend to major in education, which is a typical first step to becoming a teacher, compared to 11% in the year 2000, 10% in 1990, and 11% in 1971. So, this is a decrease in part due to conditions in schools after number of reforms that have made testing mandatory and have introduced accountability models in schools. Teachers seem to be very stressed about the situation and change actually the working conditions that they have in schools.
Ian Menter 8:24
And in England, we are currently facing a decline in the number of people applying for teaching. Indeed, the government is continuing to spend quite a lot of money on promoting teaching as a profession with national advertising campaigns. I mean, the common view held by many teachers and by the teacher unions is that potential applicants have increasingly been put off the idea of teaching, because of the policy changes that have impacted on the profession, including some of the same things that Teresa was just talking about. I mean, the amount of bureaucracy now in teaching, the amount of testing, the amount of inspection, all these things are creating a workload, which is not only very large, but it’s also fairly stressful. And so, unfortunately, we are seeing a number of people not applying who might otherwise. But then, of course, I expect you’re going to ask us, Will, about the retention as well because that’s become a big issue as well. Gatekeeping people in the profession once they have joined it.
Will Brehm 9:38
So, what are the retention numbers in the profession?
Ian Menter 9:41
Well, in England, we have had some fairly horrendous figures recently about the number of people who are no longer in the profession five years after qualifying. It’s approaching 50% of those who enter a teacher education course will have left, will not be in teaching five years after completing their teacher education program. Which, of course, is a hugely expensive undertaking. It means a lot of money is really being wasted. But it’s a sad reflection of how people are not finding teaching to be the kind of fulfilling occupation that they had hoped for.
Maria Teresa Tatto 10:28
Yeah, this question is similar in the US. About 50% of the people who graduate from programs stay in the teaching profession after 3-5 years of teaching. And this is worse in the areas that we call STEM, where people have opportunities to go and get better and higher-paid positions with the kind of knowledge that they have. If they are good in math and science, they are likely to be able to get into better careers, and they are better remunerated.
Will Brehm 11:07
Is this simply a function of the policy reforms that have happened? You know, focusing on accountability and teaching to the test?
Ian Menter 11:15
Well, in the case of England, I don’t think it’s the only factor. I mean, there’s pay as well. And teachers pay has not kept pace with inflation, for example. And so, there’s been some disenchantment around pay levels. But more generally, I think we have to look at the wider economic situation. And Teresa just mentioned, people who have degrees, for example, in science or mathematics, being able to find more lucrative and probably less stressful occupations outside of teaching. This is similar in England. People are able to make choices. And if there are opportunities that will reduce the stress or pay better, then I am afraid people may go for it. This all sounds very negative; I realize that. But we must balance it partially by saying, in spite of these factors, there are people in the profession who are actually enjoying their work and are doing a very good job. People who have found ways of living with the demands, contemporary demands of the profession, and still find it fulfilling, partly through promoting their subject, I guess, in particularly in secondary or high schools. But also, through the fulfillment of actually feeling they’re making some kind of difference for the young people that they’re teaching. So, let’s not all be doom and gloom. We just have to find ways of making it more possible for more of the people who are entering the profession to get that kind of fulfillment out of their work.
Maria Teresa Tatto 12:59
I think, in the US, while policy had the effect of introducing increased assessment, you know, testing of pupils and heavy demands in teachers work, it also had the unfortunate effect of changing public opinion about the worth and value of teachers to the point in which that public opinion does also have an influence on how teachers themselves perceive their work to be. However, I agree with Ian in terms of the large number of teachers who are in schools doing a good job and enjoying teaching. But when you talk to teachers, and the teachers in our book, there are several trends that you can see. And some of those trends are the workload, and the compliance with the standards, and having to prepare pupils for the test, which seems to waste some of the enjoyment of teaching. You know, the discovery, creativity, and so on, that teachers enjoy doing with their students.
Ian Menter 14:19
Our book is based on work in England and in the USA. But if you do look at some other countries, it is clear that it doesn’t have to be like this. And the example that most people refer to is Finland, where there can be up to 10 people applying for one place on a teacher education program. And that seems to relate very much to the point that Teresa has just made about the public standing of the teaching profession. Teaching is a very highly regarded profession in Finland. It is a profession that can only be entered through a master’s level entry program, which will involve sustained study in university as well as sustained experience in a school setting. So, you know, there are some significant international differences and comparisons to be made. And England and USA probably have more similarities in this respect than they have differences, and we have to look elsewhere to see some other examples of how things could be different.
Maria Teresa Tatto 15:32
Yeah, as an example, and just to say a little bit more, this policy of No Child Left Behind did change the idea about what a qualified teacher means. And basically, by changing that idea, which, you know, the policy defined a qualified teacher as somebody who knows the subject very well, and the assumption is that they can go into schools and teach. People who entered the profession under that model do not need to have long years of experience in the school. For example, the internship that teachers get in universities. Or they don’t need to have large introduction to psychology, to the pedagogical techniques, and to what is called the pedagogical content knowledge. So, by saying that, you know, knowledgeable people can become teachers goes against the value, you know, the teachers who have become teachers through the traditional routes. And also, the teachers who are already in the profession then whose knowledge is not seen as important or as valuable as it could be. It’s kind of deprofessionalizing the notion of a teacher, which is what Ian was saying. The notion that in order to become a teacher, you need years of study and years of practice to learn how to really address the learning needs of diverse students.
Will Brehm 17:04
Right. I mean it’s interesting to think that so long as you say, are good at math, and you are assumed that you will be a good teacher. As if teaching isn’t this skill that takes years of practice, and experience and learning and -it’s quite amazing to think about what is a qualified teacher, and how it’s been so sort of skewed and narrowed to just this content knowledge.
Ian Menter 17:29
I mean, if we could perhaps refer to the research in our book at this point. What that particularly, I think, demonstrates the research we did there is actually just building on the point you just made -how complex the process of learning to be a teacher is. It’s not a simple question of learning a bit of theory, a bit of subject knowledge and developing a bit of skill. It’s about all of those things, but in interaction with each other. And what we found in looking at beginning teachers learning to teach both in England and in the USA is that the relationships that the young or early career teacher, the beginning teacher experiences in the school setting and in the university setting are just as important as the factual knowledge or the skill development that they may experience. So, I think a key message of our book is that teacher education needs to be very, very carefully planned, cooperatively between all of those who have responsibility. So, that is, the staff in the university, the faculty there, but it’s also the teachers in the schools. And it’s also about helping the beginning teacher to understand the challenges that they are going to be facing while they’re going through the process. So, if all of that’s achieved, and we did have examples of very successful practice in our research. If all of that’s achieved, we can actually enable beginning teachers to learn effectively, and in fact, to get fulfillment out of their future teaching.
Maria Teresa Tatto 19:19
In the US, for example, the population here is changing dramatically. We have a population of children who come from different backgrounds, who need special attention sometimes. And, you know, having teachers prepare in a very brief manner doesn’t really equip those teachers with the kinds of knowledge and skills that they need to address the needs of the kids who are underserved, who need teachers the most. So, this is a very specialized type of work which is recognized in other countries such as Finland and receives not much recognition under current trends in US and in England.
Will Brehm 20:03
I mean, it seems like the idea of Teach for America or Teach First in England would be counter to a lot of what you’re saying about this in-depth knowledge that needs to be gained through years of learning and years of practice teaching. So, it almost seems like Teach for America and Teach First are sort of the polar opposite of what you’re talking about.
Maria Teresa Tatto 20:30
I should say that you know, observing the Teach First in England and Teach for America in the US; actually, these two approaches are different in the way that they are implemented. So, in the case that I observed in England, which is the one that we report in our book, the support for teachers in Teach First is very carefully planned. Mentors are very attentive, they have gone through the program themselves, and they know the population of children that are in the schools and the needs that the kids have. In Teach for America, it seems to be a less carefully planned model. Especially what happens in the schools. They have been trying to change things a little by thinking of teachers as leaders. But as Ian was saying, if you don’t plan carefully the experiences that teachers are going to have in the schools, and you don’t have a mentor and a structure model that will support these beginning teachers, they have a really, really hard time to the point that they really just stay for two years, and then they drop out. I did see in England also teachers having a really hard time with Teach First, but the difference that I saw there is the support that that particular school – I cannot talk for Teach First. I think Ian could talk in general in England- but at least in the school that I observed, the whole school model, the whole support was structured and carefully planned to support these beginning teachers. And still, they did have challenges and problems. It was still quite stressful.
Ian Menter 22:22
Yeah. So, I agree with Teresa. I wouldn’t see Teach First as a polar opposite to good practice in teacher education, particularly in England, because it is carefully structured. And it does have involvement of study of education, as well as practice of education. There are two additional points, though, that I would make. One is, Teach First has the advantage, if you like, of actually recruiting very, very talented and enthusiastic people. There is a very rigorous selection process for Teach First, and that’s something -if we had more people applying for teaching on to other programs in England, we would dearly love to be able to pursue. So, you get very strong people coming into the Teach First program, and as I said earlier, there are some very, very successful teachers who’ve come in through Teach First. But as Teresa just mentioned, I mean, there is no obligation on people coming in through Teach First to do more than two years. A training year and then one year of teaching. So, actually, again, 50% of those Teach First entrants leave after their second year of the program when they have finished the formal part of the program. So, again, it makes it a rather expensive and almost indulgent way of entering the teaching profession. Many of them go off to other careers at that point, having done two years of what might be seen as public service in the state school teaching sector. Go off into careers, for example, in banking or other aspects of finance. So, you know, there is very positive features of Teach First, but it still has many problems. And it is interesting to me, who worked in Scotland as well as England, that until this point, at least, Scotland has resisted approaches by Teach First to start up there. They don’t see it as a fully legitimate way of entering the teaching profession because of the kind of fast-track nature of the program.
Will Brehm 24:47
What about in Finland? Is there anything similar to Teach First or Teach for America in Finland?
Maria Teresa Tatto 24:53
I believe there is not.
Ian Menter 24:55
There are similar programs in something like 30 countries now. Teach for India, Teach for Australia, etc. But as far as I am aware, Teresa, you are confirming that Finland has not adopted that approach.
Maria Teresa Tatto 25:13
It does go against the whole idea of what teachers should be. In Finland, there is something that they call the science of education. And within the university, education is recognized as one of the disciplines in the university, which is a status that is different than it has in England, or even here in the US. So, you know education is at par with other disciplines. And so, preparing teachers is seen as an equally important endeavor as preparing doctors or preparing engineers.
Will Brehm 25:52
How do these sort of alternative pathways compare to the university internship model that you’ve explored at, I think it was Michigan State University and Oxford University?
Ian Menter 26:05
The idea of the Oxford internship scheme, which has some similarities with Michigan State, as you will hear from Teresa in a moment. The idea was first implemented way back in the early 1980s when for the first time in England, we had a very sustained, collaborative development of a teacher education program involving not just the university, and not just local schools, but also the local education authority, the local council that at that time had management responsibility for schools. So, the program was developed collaboratively. And for the first time, really, we had a fully sustained partnership between those different partners, which involved systematic and prolonged training and debate and discussion between the partners, so that the whole program was developed as a cooperative activity. And it had a principle of learning through inquiry built into it right from the outset. And it’s very much a kind of research-based and research-informed approach. It became recognized and still is recognized as one of the most successful teacher education programs in England. It’s been rated very highly whenever it has been inspected. And it is recognized throughout the professional community, teachers, and teacher educators, as a very effective program. It has to be said, it’s a relatively small program, taking fewer than 200 new people each year, and only working at the moment with intending secondary school teachers. But it has been very successful. And it was one of the two main programs we looked at in this book. We looked at two programs which we believe did have a track record of success in the sense of trying to explore what happens in a situation where practice is generally recognized to be very successful.
Maria Teresa Tatto 28:23
Yeah, the program at Michigan State University is also a program that is very much research-based. And in the late 80s, there was a big effort to create a partnership. In fact, there was some influence from the Oxford model in the Michigan State University. It said that MSU actually went a little bit further to develop what is called professional development schools. The Horn Group reports this series of three reports that imagine or re-imagine what it would be to have a different model to prepare teachers and a different idea of what a teacher should be. It really inspired a movement to create a teacher education program that was based in strong partnerships in the schools. Where also similar as to what Ian was saying, to have a collaborative role between the people in the school, the faculty in universities where everybody will, you know, benefit in order to support the learning of future teachers. Where faculty and teachers together research their own practice so that they will document how they were attempting to prepare teachers and what was working, what was not working. There was a whole scholarship that came out of the 1980s-1990s documenting, you know, what it was like to prepare future teachers. Where teachers were, like in the mid-90s, conceived as learners. And once that switch happened, thinking of teachers as learners, there was just this explosion of ideas and trying to understand teacher thinking, and what it was like to take on the role of a teacher, you know, or the identity and so on. So, the programs at Michigan State University have maintained for 22 years in a row or more the reputation of being the best program in the nation in preparing elementary and secondary teachers. And the US News and World Report just came out stating, again, that we are at the top of the list as well, this year. So, it is a very strong model in terms of partnership. The internship in the Michigan State University model, to answer your question about the difference between Teach First internship and the Michigan State internship model, is that it’s very carefully designed in terms of the collaboration that exists between the university. The last year, for example, Michigan State is a five-year program. So, in the fifth year, the interns spend a full year in the school except for one day that they go to university. And that day, there is a day of planning, reflection, and thinking about what they are going to do on the subsequent weeks. So, they actually plan what they are going to teach, how they are going to teach it, how they are going to reflect on their teaching, how they are going to evaluate their pupils to see whether they learn what is intended. And many of them actually videotape themselves doing these, and they’re quite critical about their own performance, and they write papers about what they could improve. The mentors in the Michigan State models are carefully selected in most of the cases to be mentors who are aligned with the Michigan State model or who have been teachers themselves prepared by the Michigan State University model. In cases where the mentorship doesn’t work well, sometimes it’s because, you know, pressures in the school or because the mentors themselves have not been prepared through the Michigan State University model.
Will Brehm 32:43
Do you think it is possible to scale the Michigan State University model and the Oxford model to more pre-service teacher training, teacher education in England and in the US? I mean, is that a feasible goal?
Ian Menter 33:02
I think it could. I mean, in a sense, these two programs have had a significant influence in both countries. Certainly, in England, the Oxford Internship Scheme was one of those that inspired if you like the move towards systematic partnership between schools and universities that did sweep across teacher education in the 1990s in England. You know, there were very positive moves about recognizing the contribution of schools to teacher education, which had been seriously undervalued in the conventional models that I talked about right early on in this discussion. So, I do think there’s been a lot of learning. And, of course, we have looked from Oxford to learn from other colleagues, both in England and internationally over the years as well. Things have not stood still. On the question of scaling up. I don’t see any reason why the principles of a scheme like the Oxford one shouldn’t be more widely adopted. They’re not particularly expensive. They’re not, I mean, we run on the same resource as programs elsewhere in the country. What I would say, however, is it does take time to really develop the knowledge and expertise within the professional community in the university and the schools to see the benefits of such an integrated scheme. So, one shouldn’t expect sort of immediate overnight success. On the other hand, if you see something that seems to work very consistently and very well, why not learn from it? And rather than throwing out babies with bath waters, rather than English colloquialism that but rather than to sort of overturn practice that is good in a number of places, why not learn from what is best and build on that. And just one final comment. I mean, we have suffered recently in England from this very short-sighted notion of teaching as simply being about enthusiasm for a subject and being able to convey it. And the idea of learning as simply as an apprenticeship. Well, you know, there is an element of apprenticeship in becoming a teacher. There is no doubt that one learns from experienced teachers. But it is very clear to us, and the research in the book shows this very clearly, that is not enough. There is a very complex and challenging program of learning that has to be carefully structured and planned to be fully effective. And that takes time, care, and consideration. And I think we could learn a great deal from these kinds of schemes. The same, no doubt, Teresa, with your scheme in Michigan.
Maria Teresa Tatto 36:11
Yes, well, the Michigan State University model, actually, I have written about this with my colleague, Janet Stuart, about the model for the teacher education for the 21st century. You know, it was something that, you know, expanding teacher education from four years to five years, to having a more selective criteria for entrance into the program, and then to carefully develop a curriculum that will allow teachers to progress. Seeing becoming a teacher as a developmental process, which actually aligns very closely now with what we call the task standards, as we documented in the book. So, the model has been an inspiration to many programs in the nation. And it has already, you know, … it is something that several programs have tried to develop in their own institutions, including the development of professional schools that exist still in several parts of the country. The idea of having faculty researcher on practice, you’ll see these in several presentations in several places, different faculty reflecting on what it takes to prepare teachers. But I will say that the model of partnership, and the kind of partnership that both Oxford University and Michigan State University aspire to, is very challenging in the current era of standards and accountability because, as Ian said, it takes time, it takes a lot of effort from teacher educators to concentrate on what the important task of preparing teachers is. But now, accountability demands require teacher educators to do other things in addition to teach future teachers. You know, it becomes a more bureaucratic procedure. Collect data about how your program is doing. And it is not that programs have ever avoided accountability. Programs have been very good at keeping track of their successes and their failures, but increasing layers of requirements, increasing accountability, procedures, those take away from the work of teacher educators. In addition, sometimes in universities, the work, the teacher education faculty, those is not as valued. And especially if that is, you know, connected with the schools. So, spending a lot of time in schools is something that takes time away from doing research, from publishing, and for those traditionally valued standards that the university has. So, things have to change in universities in order for these models to flourish in the way in which they were planned. At the moment in which faculty care more about publications and about doing research than spending time in schools with teachers and with mentors and, you know, use observing and nurturing these beginning teachers, at that moment, this idea of the partnership, you know, begins to fail. So, there are a number of things that need to be in place for this type of models to be scalable.
Will Brehm 39:59
Well, Maria Teresa Tatto and Ian Menter, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, it’s a pleasure to talk.
Ian Menter 40:05
Thank you, Will, it’s been good talking to you and very interesting to have this discussion. Many thanks.
Maria Teresa Tatto 40:12
Thank you, Will. I was so much looking forward to this interview, and I’m just very happy that we had this exchange. It’s wonderful work that you do.
Learning to be a teacher