Thursday, October 7, 2010

A bump in the road

So far this week has largely been devoted to working with colleagues at the University. The purpose of these exchanges is to bring those who train new teachers up to speed with those who are doing in-service training. In this country the in-service training is spectacular. There is a small cadre of master trainers who are talented, well informed and exceptional educators. For the most part they come from the ranks of classroom teachers who have worked their way up. The end result is that the in-service training is modern, child centered, interactive and just plain good.

The same cannot be said for the pre-service training. The issues are, not surprisingly, complex. Teacher education sits within the university structure which in many ways mirrors the old Soviet system. Thus the hierarchy is still in place – older professors dominate the conversations and discussions and younger ones sit silent. The curriculum is under the purview of the heads of the departments who were young men in Soviet times and long for the return of the order. Thus the culture of the University for Pre-service Teachers is simultaneously a mirror of, at this point an almost mythical past, with the mandate to train teachers for the future. It is not a particularly successful model.

From an international perspective, teacher shortages and teacher retention are big issues. It is generally agreed, that education is the key to political stability and economic prosperity. Yet it is difficult to find good teachers and even more difficult to get them to stay in the profession. The numbers world-wide from developed to developing countries are not optimistic. According to a recent study, in Tajikistan 50% of all young teachers leave the profession after five years. The reasons are substantial and daunting. They are unprepared for the day to day work of students; their skills do not match the classroom realities; they are over worked and under paid; and the resources are limited. These retentions issues are made even more painful when set in context of the Soviet Times when teachers were well paid and respected.

The first session was today and it was a lulu. As to be expected the jostling for group supremacy and philosophical posturing was immediate. When the trainer asked the group, what was the most important point in planning a successful lesson for school children the first response was money. Typically, individuals were anxious to promote their personal agendas and the louder they promoted them the better. Communication style is a cultural artifact and this was a textbook study. In about five minutes it was apparent that lesson planning was not on the hearts and minds of the audience. The lesson learned of course is that we as a team started in the wrong place.

The system is top down. Participation in seminars or professional learning communities is by mandate not by interest or choice. Thus once again, faculty found themselves at the mercy of someone elses “good idea.” In some ways the chaotic nature of the seminar was cathartic for the participants and a great learning opportunity for us. They had grievances to vent and this was a tiny opening to do that. I relayed the story of the boy with the blue ruler as an illustration of the teacher not having any idea what the objective of the lesson was. Even the most recalcitrant of participants grudgingly agreed.

For the hundredth time I was struck by the disconnect not just here but in education training programs generally, by what really capable and talented teachers are able to do in the field and what transpires in the halls of universities and educational ministries. Perhaps one of the requirements for administrators and policy makers is to spend six months in the class of a master kindergarten teacher just to be reminded again what we are all about and what it takes to really get the job done.


  1. Laser sharp. You're returning....too soon. You were born to manifest...a huge transshape of all you touch. Your 'moment' of gravity has just begun.

  2. The ways that the 'developed' and 'developing' nations mirror one another is interesting. Even though the locations and contexts are different, it is interesting that constancy is much more prevalent than change.