There’s an ongoing discussion in the education community about what we can learn from the training of our armed forces to better prepare and develop our teachers. With just 13 weeks of intensive core training, the Marines manage to turn young men and women, most with no prior military experience, into a highly-skilled, effective fighting force.
Yet, as Andy Rotherham writes Time, “in American schools, we still haven’t figured out how to give our teaching force—whose members are college graduates, more than half of whom have advanced degrees—autonomy and accountability in a far less dynamic workplace.”
Over the last 22 years, Teach For America has conducted its own intense introductory training for its corps members: summer institute, which consists of five action-packed weeks split between teaching and soaking up classes ranging from classroom management to lesson planning. The environment is nonstop, with the aim to start optimistic corps members—many with no prior teaching experience—on a lifelong journey of becoming effective educators. The hours are long, hard and, given the stakes, completely warranted.
Summer institute has been on my mind as I recently went through the latest “Pre-Institute Work” for 2012 corps members and found myself pleasantly surprised, but still wanting more. While Teach For America’s training and development of corps members is light years ahead of what I experienced when I was at Philadelphia institute many years ago, we have yet to fully embrace the use—and reap the benefits of—education technology (“ed tech”).
Technology offers the opportunity to gain repetitive, targeted exposure to the tricky situations that stymie all beginning teachers, accelerating the steep learning curve.
As Amanda Ripley recently wrote in the Atlantic, if we want better results in the classroom, we need “to start training teachers the way we train doctors and pilots, with intense, realistic practice, using humans, simulations, and master instructors.” Though Ripley also notes that at education schools across the country, these innovations are the exception, not the norm.
One exception is Boston’s Match Teacher Residency program, which exposes student teachers to one hundred hours of virtual drills with recorded actors portraying distracted and disrespectful students. Through repeated practice, new teachers’ brains learn to respond to this behavior so they can focus more on teaching and less on classroom management.
I know that when I was training in Philadelphia I would’ve jumped at the opportunity to have more intensive, realistic practice—real or virtual.
So at TFA, while all corps members use video to aid their development and some summer school sites have a focus on technology, there’s still an unrealized revolution waiting to happen. We could crowd-source ideas from corps members and alums, many of whom are digital natives. A “Race to the Top” type program could be in order, with seed funding going towards the best ideas emerging from a competitive contest.
At a recent StartUp Weekend event in the Bay, budding entrepreneurs—including many Teach For America alums—spent 54 hours incubating ed tech innovations. Let’s foster more of those big ideas and bring them to our summer institutes.
Teach For America expects to welcome an incoming corps of 8,000 teachers in 2015. We would be wise to leverage the economies of scale and increased effectiveness and efficiency technology offers. Luckily, we have the tech-savvy leaders and enthusiasm for continuous improvement to do just that.