Teaching: More Complex Than Rocket Science

American teachers touch the American future every day. They do so by producing good citizens, good employers, good workers, and good people. As teacher educators, we prepare these leaders.

In today’s political climate, too many people take a simplistic approach to teaching and learning. It’s not hard to find someone who will argue that to teach, all you need are good intentions. Nearly everyone has been in school, so many people believe this makes them expert on how to teach and even on how to train teachers. Similar logic would lead us to conclude that since everyone has been born, we could all be obstetricians and medical educators. Teaching and teacher training are not simple tasks.

We know from good research that the process of teaching and learning is anything but simple. It is not rocket science; it is much more difficult than that, because we are dealing with people—children—and their development. We know good teaching involves a complex set of natural and acquired skills, knowledge, dispositions, and talent.

We begin the task of preparing effective teachers by admitting students who possess a range of qualities that will serve them in the classroom. Intelligence alone does not ensure their success. We are responsible—both to the future teachers and to the public—for providing our students with a strong academic foundation, equipping them with an array of pedagogical tools, and carefully inducting them into the teaching profession.

Teacher education programs equip students with the tools of teaching—tools that will enable them to start strong and continue to grow long after they graduate. Because, as we know, good teachers are lifelong learners.

We also know that teacher education must be a collaborative process. It takes a community to prepare a teacher—to help candidates develop strong academic skills, fluency in the learning sciences, and practice in real-life conditions with veteran teachers and children in classrooms.

When faced with political roadblocks and tempted by cheap, quick alternatives to these complexities, why do we still insist on such rigorous preparation? Why must our students have both a strong academic foundation and extensive field experiences? My answer is simple: We want to produce teachers of the highest quality, who are well equipped to succeed in a diverse setting, and whose students will succeed.

At its core, teacher education is about the art of inspiring and the science of learning. It is not rocket science—it is much harder than that.

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Julie Underwood

Chair, AACTE Board of Directors, and Dean, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison