Woe to the ChildrenThe Dec. 15 editorial, "Teaching as a...


January 16, 1993

Woe to the Children

The Dec. 15 editorial, "Teaching as a Profession," stated that "the state of Maryland moves a step closer to making a genuine profession of teaching" should the Maryland Higher Education Commission accept a recent task force report urging an end to undergraduate majors in education.

Instead, this report recommends a major and degree in one of the liberal arts or sciences followed by an intense "professional year" -- one year for aspiring teachers to learn about the science and methods of teaching and of practicing it on the job.

This "fifth year" would result in a master's degree.

An untested assumption behind this task force report is that more "subject matter knowledge" will better prepare classroom teachers for their numerous daily roles (teacher, surrogate parent, counselor, nurse) in interacting with a large number of individual children with incredibly diverse backgrounds, experiences, learning styles and needs.

No differentiation is made in this report between the preparation of early childhood/elementary school teachers and the preparation of middle, junior or senior high school teachers.

There is a difference.

Early childhood and elementary school teachers are responsible for facilitating learning in a variety of academic subjects -- reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies and the creative arts, with increasing focus nationally on integrating these curriculum areas through interdisciplinary approaches for more "holistic" learning.

A single major, even with a related minor, will not better prepare teachers for this onerous task.

I am not suggesting that subject matter mastery is not important.

Obviously, teachers need to know their content. They need to know and understand the structure of each discipline. They need to know about misconceptions commonly held by children and adults in the different disciplines, and so forth.

Yet subject matter mastery is not the only prerequisite for becoming an effective teacher.

The last decade has seen a surge in the identification and development of a research and experience-based "knowledge base" of what beginning teachers need to know when they enter their classrooms for the first time.

It is the application of this knowledge base to the development of sound teacher preparation programs, graduate and undergraduate, which will "professionalize" teaching.

Simply adding a fifth year that will grant a diluted master's degree will not do it.

In addition to subject matter, teachers need to know about child development; the relationship between child development and instructional strategies and content; the learning styles of children; cultural influences that affect learning; classroom organization and management; instructional technology and its implications for classroom practice; the role of parents in the educative process; techniques for mainstreaming "special needs" children into the regular classroom; available resources and how to use them for meeting the needs of at-risk children; and a multitude of strategies, techniques and methods for motivating children to engage in their own learning.

The task force proposal which you endorse does not in any way provide for "more rigorous preparation, certification and selection."

Nor does it "help assure that beginning teachers are better prepared for one of society's most difficult occupations."

If, as you say, teaching is a most difficult occupation, and I wholeheartedly agree, how can you endorse a proposal that reduces preparation for this "most difficult" occupation to one year?

You are incorrect in your statement that "voices are still" on this issue.

There are those of us in the profession who are opposed to this report as it currently stands.

We in the department of elementary education at Towson State University, at least, have been engaged in rethinking our undergraduate curriculum for the preparation of elementary school teachers so that, to the extent possible, the liberal arts and sciences preparation of future teachers would be enhanced without sacrificing other, equally important, components of our current "knowledge base."

And we, at least, have kept foremost in our minds what is best for the children whom our future teachers will serve.

Robert F. Smith


The writer is chairman of the elementary education department at Towson State University.

Avoiding Reality at Rosewood

Your Jan. 3 editorial again mentions the plan to transfer violent retarded persons from Rosewood Hospital Center to Springfield Hospital Center because the community around Rosewood has been made unsafe.

L This would only shift the problem and evade the real issues.

Some potentially violent individuals exist among the retarded population, just as in our schools and general population.

In such a situation we have a dual responsibility: care for the retarded persons who cannot care for themselves and protection of the community from such potentially dangerous individuals.

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