What are we preparing students for?

In preparing for this semester, I decided to spend some time thinking about all of the conversations I’ve had this past year with Early Childhood Teachers, Center Directors, Education Coordinators, Adjunct Faculty, and other professionals in the field. I always ask folks what they want to see in Associate Degree graduates.  Inevitably, people say they want to see a higher level of professionalism and they want to see practitioners with a better grasp of classroom management. I always wonder how I can teach them that skill when we are sitting in a college classroom of adults…but that may be the subject of another post. Today, I want to think about our field.

What are we preparing students for? Is it the field that exists in the real-world, or is it the field that exists somewhere in our own hearts and minds?

When I first started teaching, I really wanted to share all of the cool things I’d learned about how young children develop and grow. My thinking was that if one understands the amazing developmental process that is taking place in each individual child and the complexity of how that growth and development are influenced by multiple factors; if I could just get students to begin to observe that in children and begin to understand that concept, then surely they would be better teachers because they had developed an appreciation for the developmental process.

My reasoning was that most students would go on to teach in a variety of settings and the one thing I could teach all of them, regardless of where they would eventually work, was an appreciation of development and an ability to observe that development unfolding before them. I felt that if my students could learn to observe young children carefully and then use that information to support each child’s development, that skill would carry them into the field where they could continue to develop professionally. Of course, in the midst of this learning goal we are also teaching students to work within a college framework; to write clearly, to read and reflect, to complete work and meet deadlines, to come to class and be prepared, etc. That may be the subject of a future post as well.

Yet, what I’m hearing from the field is, that’s not enough. I think we will continue to hear that we, in teacher preparation, are not doing enough to prepare our students for the realities of the field, and I want to be thoughtful about how to proceed.

Personally, I think I have in some ways prepared students for the field as I wish it to be. I collect stories, pictures, articles, & books based on the practices I most admire; the shining examples.  I show video clips. I bring in guests. What I may not be telling students outright is that this is not the reality they will face when they enter this field. Maybe this is wrong. It worries me that we may be setting students up for a disappointment or even a sense of betrayal.

So, what skills do students need in order to face the field as it is? How do we give them a sense of the reality, as well as the possible? Further , is it really an either/or choice? Must we teach either for the reality or for the ideal? Is there a way to prepare them for both?

I’d like to pursue this issue further. As we explore shared practices this year, I’d like to continue to think about how to present the field as it is to our students and provide them with opportunities to hone the skills they need to work in the field, but to also share with them the many possibilities that exist in working with young children and their families.

The first step for my own teaching, is to listen more to the folks on the ground – the teachers, directors, education coordinators, adjunct faculty, etc. They see the field up close every day and although they may not be focused on the academic side of teacher preparation, they can help us to prepare students for the field as it is within our own communities; the communities in which our students will practice. If they are telling me classroom management is key, then I guess I need to listen and think about how to teach classroom management in a college setting. If they tell me professionalism is key then I need to embed learning opportunities about professionalism through my courses and program.

I’m not likely to give up my image of the field as I wish it to be, and I’m not likely to stop sharing that vision with my students. However, I do plan to wake up more to the realities and challenges of this field, and build learning opportunities that help students address the field as it is.

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