Education, From A-Z

"One of the questions I'll try to reflect back to almost anybody I see who comes and asks me about being a teacher: Have they had any good teachers themselves? I know the answer is going to be yes, that they've had personal experience with the impact that a good teacher can have, and in some ways they want to have that same impact as a teacher themselves."
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June 1, 2002

The roots of teacher preparation and education run 150 years deep at Duke--deeper than the name, deeper almost than the school itself. In 1851, Union Institute was re-incorporated as Normal College, and the school began awarding degrees for teaching in the public schools. Normal, under the leadership of Braxton Craven, was one of the first chartered institutions in the country for teacher preparation and became renowned as one of the outstanding teacher-training colleges in the South.

In 1859, Normal College became Trinity College, continuing its tradition of teacher preparation. When Trinity became Duke University in 1924, the Indenture of Trust by which James B. Duke established his vision of the new university placed teacher training among the school's primary missions: "I advise that the courses at this institution be arranged first with special reference to the training of preachers, teachers, lawyers, and physicians, because these are most in the public eye, and by precept and example can do most to uplift mankind."

During the nearly eighty years since that charter, the status of education at Duke and on the national stage has gone through several permutations. The Department of Education existed for decades; in the 1960s, it began to offer a Master's of Arts in Teaching degree. In 1982, during a period of "retrenchment," the department became instead the Program in Education and the M.A.T. languished until 1989, when it was resurrected as a program of the Graduate School.

The directors of those two programs, David M. Malone Ph.D. '84 of the Program in Education, which prepares undergraduates for teaching at the primary and secondary levels, and Rosemary Thorne of the M.A.T. program, which prepares teachers for secondary education, spent several hours discussing education in its various forms, from teacher preparation at Duke to teacher induction in the public schools, and many issues that face educators today. And finally, they revealed a new direction for education at Duke.

150 Years of Teacher Preparation

How committed is Duke to the idea of teaching teachers to teach?

MALONE: That sentence in the indenture says a purpose of the university is preparing teachers.

THORNE: And that will always be a part of Duke. There will always be discussions of how Duke ought to go about that, and how much emphasis Duke will place on that. I don't see a resurrection of a huge department of education ever at Duke.

MALONE: Nor a need for one.

There's a wonderful group of Duke faculty who, during their time at Duke, have been extremely supportive and insistent that Duke stay involved in teaching. They helped keep teacher preparation alive at a time when it might have been thought that Duke really didn't need to devote resources to it.

How close did Duke come to that point of not devoting resources to teacher education?

THORNE: There was a time, not that many years ago, where there was some thought that the university would quit preparing teachers at the undergraduate level. But I don't think at any time during the past 150 years has there been any thought of Duke getting out of the business of preparing teachers altogether.

MALONE: Right. It was more a matter of what degree of resources are going to be allocated. That's not true just at Duke--that's true at a lot of places. If you look at UNC at Chapel Hill, right now they have no undergraduate secondary teaching program.

THORNE: They've moved to all-M.A.T.

MALONE: In some ways, Duke was in sync with some national trends.

MALONE: One of the things that's been missing for the last fifteen or twenty years or so is that the program in education hasn't been as well integrated with the research and scholarly mission and academic mission of Arts and Sciences as it needs to be.

THORNE: But that's changing.

 

So the programs are smaller--they're not a "School of Education" or even a department--but, qualitatively, where do you stand?

MALONE: We're producing students who we think are going to be excellent teachers, and have proven to be excellent teachers.

THORNE: I don't want to take anything away from any graduate from Duke's former Department of Education, but we've never produced better teachers than we're producing now.

Teaching Teachers to Teach

Teaching is so much more than standing in front of a classroom and lecturing. What do teachers-to-be have to learn?

MALONE: When we think about how we design a curriculum to teach students to become teachers, we start with awarenesses the students might not have, understandings they might not have. Not only about how children learn, but their own private theories about what teaching is. Both of us have probably spent an awful lot of time in our programs trying to get at these presuppositions that Duke students have about teaching and learning and growing up and developing. A liberal-arts education does a lot to kind of expose all those theories, misconceptions, and assumptions that students make about teaching.For instance, when they use terms like "covering the material." When we're talking about what a good teacher does, they'll say, "Well, she certainly covers all the material that's part of the course." I like to propose the difference between "covering" and "discovering." The idea of good teaching isn't about covering the material, it's about helping students to discover it. In order for them to be great teachers, they're going to have to do a whole lot more than cover the material.

THORNE: Teachers are responsible for student learning, not just responsible for delivering the information.

MALONE: Let me throw something out on that, Ro. I remember one time visiting a classroom, and I asked the teacher how things were going. She said that things had been going slowly and she was a little bit behind, but now they were going better because there had been a good number of students absent because of the flu, and the fact that they were absent enabled her to catch up in terms of the amount of material that she could cover because there were fewer people there, fewer questions, fewer interruptions.

THORNE: There's a whole lot that you have to have to be a good teacher, a whole litany of knowledge you have to have. But you also have to have a connection with your students.

MALONE: One of the questions I'll try to reflect back to almost anybody I see who comes and asks me about being a teacher: Have they had any good teachers themselves? I know the answer is going to be yes, that they've had personal experience with the impact that a good teacher can have, and in some ways they want to have that same impact as a teacher themselves.

THORNE: In my graduation speech every year, I tell my class that society will never reward teachers in the way that they should be rewarded, either with respect or with monetary reward. But then I tell them, and I firmly believe this, that there is no more important calling. That a teacher has more power to end human suffering than does a doctor, to lift the human spirit than does a minister, and to change civil rights, to change our public discourse, than does a politician or an attorney. Teachers are much more powerful in what they do every day than any of those persons. And there truly is no more important profession.

Teachers’ teachers: Thorne, standing, and Malone

Teachers' teachers: Thorne, standing, and Malone.

Finding and Keeping Teachers

Facing the teacher shortage, how do you bring more people into the profession through the Program in Education or the M.A.T. program?

 

THORNE: There are several things that have to happen. One is that the perception in the academy of teacher preparation needs to change. We need to think that it's a viable occupation for our best and brightest students. It has to be considered a reasonable choice and a prestigious position.

MALONE: It seems to professors, in many cases, that it's an odd choice when one of their better students in their discipline has decided to become a teacher. They see that as something that isn't necessarily a good choice for them.

THORNE: And that is coming from a teacher.

MALONE: A teacher at the college level. And in many cases, if they do see them as becoming a teacher, it's always that they become a teacher for a few years before they go back to graduate school and get a real job. In some ways, that's the attitude a lot of our students hear from their parents and from faculty members.

THORNE: Another thing I believe strongly that we need to do is raise teacher salaries. As long as a man or a woman can not reasonably support a family on a teacher's salary, it's not a viable career choice.

Students who come into the M.A.T. program typically aren't rich. There's been a small handful of students who have been able to pay their way or their parents have been able to pay their way, but I'm talking four or five over the last thirteen years. M.A.T. students have loans. Huge loans. And typically, they already have undergraduate loans. They come into the program with debt, and they accumulate more debt when they're in the program, and then they enter a profession that is going to pay them, to start, $27,000 a year. That's a problem. Some people--and I am entirely sympathetic to this--say, I would love to do this, but it's not a reasonable return on my investment.

I think of the other things we could do if we had the budget. We could do more to prepare these guys to teach. We could provide broader experiences, and God knows, it would change the face of who we could admit. Who could come.

 

With all the hurdles in mind, who does come?

MALONE: In general, the students we see now who are coming to ask us about what it's like to become a teacher and how to prepare to be a teacher are different from the types of students who were my peers when I was preparing to be a teacher. The types of students we see now seem very committed to issues of equity, issues of social justice, issues of wanting to change the world. And they have an idealism that I think is very refreshing.

THORNE: I don't know that I see that as much as you do in the M.A.T. program.

MALONE: I don't hear many students saying to me, I need to prepare to be a teacher in case I don't get another kind of job or as a fallback position.

THORNE: I don't see those kinds of people either, although when I was in school there were those people: "In case I don't get married at graduation, then I better have a teaching certificate so I have something to do until I get married." That we don't see anymore.

We put such an emphasis on study within the discipline that the students I see love their academic disciplines. They love mathematics or they love history or they love English literature. And they're very good at it. They don't necessarily want to become a researcher in that field, but they have a love of this topic and they want to share it.

Those are the students that I see more often. And every year, I see students who would love to go into teaching, but they look--not even so much at the entry-level pay scale of a teacher--they look at the fact that after twenty years they will be making what their peers will be making right out of undergrad school.

MALONE: The disparity is just too great. Even if it was different, and there was less of a gap...

THORNE: If you see that, after twenty years I'm going to be making $45,000, that's a disincentive to go into teaching. And I am tired to death of hearing policymakers say we need to quit throwing money at education. Throw some money at teacher preparation. Throw some money at teachers in terms of salaries.

MALONE: I think it's really sad when you go to Harris Teeter and you see your own children's teachers bagging groceries. I've seen them at Home Depot, in second jobs. Teaching is a very difficult job in and of itself, but then to have to get a second job....

THORNE: You could live off that salary, but it's difficult to live within the culture, the times, what we expect of a reasonable, middle-class salary.

MALONE: Yeah, $200 for a family of four to go to one baseball game. That's a lot of cash.

THORNE: You don't do that on a teacher's salary. You just don't.

MALONE: But given the parameters and given the constraints of how the profession of teaching is structured in our society, there's still a lot we can do to attract undergraduates to it.

THORNE: Absolutely. For a good share of the people who have come through either of our programs, they couldn't imagine doing anything else. They love what they do.

Testing, Standards, and Accountability

You can't talk about education now without talking about some of the new trends and requirements. How does testing affect what your teachers have to learn, and how they teach?

THORNE: For all of the bad news--and please don't let my graduates read this because they'll all come holler at me--but the standards movement and the accountability movement in North Carolina has been largely a good thing. It doesn't hurt the best teachers. The best teachers who are out there are not hurt by, and they're not really teaching to, a test. That's really for the most part not happening.

MALONE: I think some of that "teaching to the test" goes on, but the question is whether that's necessarily all a bad thing.

THORNE: Sure. What were they teaching to before? It is absolutely true that we had children who were not learning in the past--who just weren't. We had kids who were being shuffled through, who were not reading at grade level, and [standards] had to happen in order to establish a floor and to raise all children up to a level where they're prepared to learn. Although it has been hugely unpopular among teachers, this kind of accountability measure, this kind of standardizing the curriculum, had to happen.

And this is not the only thing that had to happen. Teaching to a one-dimensional measurement of student learning is never going to tell the whole story about how children learn or what children learn or what children know and/or are able to do. We need to go far beyond that to a different kind of assessment strategy.

MALONE: That's becoming an emerging consensus, that the current accountability programs are having some positive results. But the problem becomes when we see them as an end in themselves, as a be-all and end-all and that somehow by this one measure we have an absolute perfect assessment of what a child's life in school is like. That's what we need to move beyond.

We need other things. What was the quality of teaching that students had prior to this? Perhaps one of the positive consequences of end-of-grade testing has been that the students in the back of the classroom who were getting absolutely no attention at one time now cannot just be left alone to sit there. Now the teacher has to say, I'm going to be held accountable for how they do.

Another positive outcome has been that the data were originally gathered in an aggregate form, but then it began to be disaggregated, and you began to see that there were different groups of students that were performing differently as groups. This aggregate data gave rise to the idea that there's this huge achievement gap between African-American students and white students and between Latino students and white students, and that's drawn a lot of attention and focus on that issue that might not have been there had we not had this kind of accountability.

THORNE: Now, there's all sorts of bad stuff that happens with accountability standards. We tend to shuffle students out of courses that have an end-of-grade test into other kinds of classes so they're not held in the aggregate numbers. They're put in classes that don't have [end-of-class tests]. And that's horrible. We don't have it right yet.

MALONE: No. And there's a good deal of research that shows that the amount of time that's spent on nonreading, nonmath types of learning environments like music and art, special types of classes, science and social studies, is diminished in order to prepare for the test. So there are some positive outcomes, but there are also some things we need to work on.

THORNE: We need to look carefully at what we're doing. It's an evolutionary process. In a relatively short time, we've gone from no accountability, and what went on in a classroom was the teacher's business. Now it's in the newspaper--you can find out how teacher X did in this school with this group of kids.

MALONE: A big part of our job now is to prepare our teachers for that kind of environment.

THORNE: Well, I agree. I hope we continue to figure out the best way to assess student learning and the best way to expand horizons for all students. And to make sure that we're insisting all students achieve.

MALONE: I think we're getting closer to that.

THORNE: I think we're making progress toward that. I hope we continue to make progress in that direction, but it's not a guarantee.

The Ideal

What would "progress" be for education? Progress to--where?

MALONE: Like "no child left behind"?

Like that. Is it that simple?

MALONE: I think one of the goals is that we have high expectations of every child. That our teachers have a sense that every child can learn. People make a joke like, in Lake Wobegon, "all the children are above average." But we're not really talking about being above average here. We're talking about setting criteria for high performance, and then aiming at that. Then you can raise the bar, and say, Now we've got everybody at this certain level, and now we're going to try to do even better than that.

THORNE: It takes a belief that all children are capable of learning.

MALONE: That's one of the things we have to do in our program.

THORNE: It takes that belief. But I would like to see the day when the public education system in the United States creates a level playing field--

MALONE: That's a good way of putting it.

THORNE:--so that children are not limited by their socioeconomic or family background. Because today they certainly are.

MALONE: As you said earlier, it's an evolutionary process. I think we can see that some children who might not have had the opportunities twenty-five or fifty years ago, some of those kids are having opportunities now. Though there does continue to be a huge disparity problem.

THORNE: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that there is any inner-city school system in the United States where all students are achieving. It's not happening.

MALONE: But there are inner-city schools where children are achieving.

THORNE: Individual schools, right. And I think that is a change from twenty-five, fifty years ago, when we weren't educating, we didn't have the diversity in those schools, we didn't have students with some of the learning problems--

MALONE: And all the social problems...

THORNE: --and all the social problems, but it is a tragedy and a travesty that if you live in an inner city, and you go to a public school, the chances are pretty damn good that you're not going to be well-educated.

MALONE: In many ways, that's what the accountability program is aimed at addressing. That's one of the good things about having Duke students go into teaching. They have a strong liberal-arts background, which I think is important to them to understanding the broader social issues that are involved in the educating of these children, the historical issues, the economic issues. It gives them a perspective that might be a little different from just a technical perspective of "this is the best way to teach this particular lesson." They understand this thing in sort of a more social-human context.

By that same reasoning, teachers end up having to be so many things every hour of the day in the classroom. Not just teacher, but psychologist, social worker, confidant, juggling all of that and maintaining professionalism and maintaining order in the classroom. Can they be prepared for that?

THORNE: We're asking so much more of teachers than we've asked in years past. School is the largest social construct in which children spend their lives. We have a vacuum in some areas that we expect people to take over. And we have more children coming to school with more social problems, and we're expecting the schools to solve those. Schools are not easy places to be.

Is that a failing of the schools?

THORNE: We certainly ask too much of schools and teachers. But we have to ask that much of the schools and teachers.

MALONE: All of those conditions that created what we think of school now in many ways are conditions that no longer exist. The whole way we think of school will change dramatically in the next few decades, to a much more holistic, multi-service place that involves activities that we think of in some ways now as happening outside of school.

Right now, we have the school day, and then we have after-school, but in some way they're separate. As school evolves, they'll be places where things happen throughout the day, and we'll see learning as occurring in all those different situations.

THORNE: Never before have we tried to educate so many students, and educate them well. We have never attempted to keep everybody in school until twelfth grade. We've never had such rigorous standards as we do now. It's an experiment that we're trying. We're not doing it very well in all areas. But for what we're trying to do, for the lack of resources that we have, and for the fact that education is so politicized, in some ways you have to look at it and say, well, we're doing better than we thought.

What's Next

You've spoken of Duke's commitment to education over the past 150 years. At the moment, that commitment manifests itself in support for your two smaller but strong programs. What changes are on the horizon?

MALONE: [Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] Bill Chafe and [Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences] Karla Holloway recognize that our program has an important mission not only in terms of what it offers to Duke's students, but what it offers to the state, regionally, and nationally. They recognize that education is a mechanism for social change and for progress.

THORNE: There's a real synergy here at Duke. And the Program in Education, with help from the M.A.T. program, is in a very good position to capitalize on that. There will be a re-energizing in the program, revitalization, with new hires in the very near future of senior scholars who are going to bring in new energy and new leadership to the program.

MALONE: This is something we've been talking about for the past year--thinking about schools differently. The university is committed to creating a new interdisciplinary entity that would find ways to bring together questions about children and schools that all disciplines have. Whether anthropologists, historians, economists, psychologists, public-policy scholars, bring those people together.

Part of the interest is that so many of the social issues and social problems that we are currently experiencing, all get played out in the schools. Who socializes children? You have families, you have schools, you have the media. These are the forces that shape their perceptions, their attitudes, who they're going to be, and, in many ways, what our future is going to be.

There's understanding among people making decisions at Duke that Duke has a responsibility to find ways to affect the experience children have in school. First of all, that we can understand what goes on there, and that we can improve it, strengthen it, and do a better job of having an impact on it. It's not just about preparing teachers, but it's about understanding that whole social context of what children do from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon.

It's also about the way teaching can be informed by all the scholarship that people are doing, whether it's in economics, English, anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, law, or business. All the scholarship of those areas can make teachers' understanding of their own work greater.

THORNE: How will education change? I think, particularly at Duke, that's it. Education becomes truly an interdisciplinary enterprise. Historians look at what history should be taught and mathematicians look at what mathematics should be taught. But we also have psychologists who look at issues of learning and teaching and cognitive development, and sociologists who look at school transitions and social organizations within schools, and we have engineers who figure out how schools ought most effectively to run, and business schools who look at the organization of schools and how effective those are.

At Duke and across the nation, it's too important for us not to bring in all of the knowledge that we have from all of those different disciplines and solve the problems that we have with children and schools.