Typhani Harris | June 2014

They Lied to You: The truth about teacher preparation

When we step out of our majors and decide we are going to peruse a teaching credential, we do so wearing proverbial rose-colored glasses. We think to ourselves, I am going to change the world, I am going to make a difference, I am going to be the best teacher ever!

And then you enter the classroom…

You are bombarded with issues like classroom discipline, differentiated instruction, high-stakes testing, IEP’s, 504s, adjunct duty, and meetings, upon meetings, upon meetings, that discuss more meetings. And you thought you were just going to go into a classroom to teach your art!

Most colleges and universities have extensive teacher preparation programs.  But unfortunately….it’s all theory!  You don’t actually know what you are getting into, until you are there, and then there’s no way out! It’s fight or flight for most of us during our first couple years teaching, we are just trying to keep our heads above water and survive.

This year I got the privilege of being a master teacher, and my poor student teacher had no idea what she was truly getting into. She is brilliant at content knowledge, but knowing your content and teaching your content in a classroom are two different things! In fact, in her first couple days I began discussing Common Core and her reaction was “they told us not to worry about Common Core”.

You could understand my complete exasperation at this comment…Common Core is now…how are they telling you not to worry about it!?!? Which made me wonder, what else are they telling our student teachers?? How are they actually preparing them to be teachers? This could possibly be the reason that 30% of new teachers bail out after the first three years, and more than 45% leave after the first five (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

So, I ventured out to see what was being taught and how it helped or hindered our new teachers entering the profession. How much do our student teachers know about the bureaucratic reality of being a teacher? So, here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of teacher preparation.

The Good

Our student teachers feel very confident in their content knowledge. This is great! They know their stuff and feel very comfortable talking about their content, but let’s be honest, this is a testament to the professors in their major, not their school of education. During their student teaching assignments, student teachers also attend seminar classes. These seminar classes proved to be beneficial in the sense that they allowed the student teachers to discuss their week including all of the challenges and successes and problem solve together.  All good stuff!

The Bad

There were multiple issues/situations that the student teachers I spoke to were not prepared for. I have iconically themed them as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.


Day to day issues that are encountered in a classroom, such as classroom management, unit teacher preparation, and flexibility, are not at the forefront of teacher education. Our student teachers read multiple books on classroom management, but unfortunately our students have not read the books…so they don’t know how they are supposed to act. I remember my first few years teaching English, when students acted up I physically handed them my textbook and told them to read it. I would say “you are not doing what they said you would be doing so I don’t know how to deal with you right now”. Our student teachers need strategies to combat behavior issues, not just narrative stories to read.

Our student teachers get an inordinate amount of practice at lesson planning, but not necessarily unit planning. Although they may be preparing minute lessons in isolation, they are not receiving the education of full unit planning and working backwards from an end of the unit assessment. This results in multiple great lessons, but lacks in the continuity of bridging individual lessons in order to build a full culminating experience.

Finally, flexibility. As a classroom teacher, flexibility is the name of the game. Everything changes. You may walk into your classroom fully prepared and then things happen…it’s a rally day, there is a fire drill, or more recently a frequent lock down. How do you adjust, how do you keep kids calm, how to you still provide the education needed, how do you survive?


Liberty is defined as freedom from arbitrary or despotic control. No one tells you about the control of education. It’s not the department chair, it’s not the principal, it’s not even the superintendent…it’s the school board. Yes, the school board that is made up of politicians who were elected to determine the future of our students…having never actually been in education or stepped foot in a classroom since they were students.

The school board has the final say in everything that is education…who made up this rule??? Student teachers are not prepared for the expectations of the school board, nor are they fully informed of the EdCode guidelines. For example, what happens in a medical crisis? Although, some steps may be procedural and site-specific, ultimately we, as government workers, follow the EdCode, but whoever teaches us the EdCode?

Additionally, when it comes to parents, our student teachers are taught to involve the parents in order to keep them happy. But what if they aren’t happy. They are not taught the procedure for parent complaints, or grievances. They don’t now how to protect themselves, who to call if they need protection, or who ultimately protects them should something go not as planned.

In California, our student teachers complete multiple TPAs (Teacher Performance Assessment), or what I like to call a TPS (To Please the School). They are required to complete lengthy evaluations of their performance, including assessing their lesson plans, differentiated instruction, case studies of students etc. when in reality…they fake all of it! My student teacher truly attacked her TPAs with integrity and honesty, only to find that most colleagues she spoke to admitted copying their TPAs…so how is this a true assessment of growth and knowledge?

Finally, the supervisor. The schools of education send out experts to observe and evaluate the student teacher. Many of these so-called experts haven’t actually taught in a classroom in over 20 years. So much has changed in the last 5 years, not to mention 20! My student teacher’s supervisor was a very sweet lady, but truthfully, counterproductive.

Each visit she commented on how great my student teacher performed. Which was nice, but she offered absolutely no constructive criticism as to how she could improve. The supervisor didn’t even provide probing questions as to furthering the lesson, or dealing with unresponsive students. How is this helping our student teachers??

The Pursuit of Happiness

I have found that if one chooses to go into teaching right after graduation, it is because they truly love and desire the opportunity to influence our youth. This may be the same for those who choose teaching as a career move, but let’s be honest, sometimes it is a fall back job. However, most student teachers are truly looking to make a difference and are determined to do what makes them happy.

They want to love their job, but for some reason, we don’t let them.   Our student teachers must endure hours of observations, multiple seminar classes, and preconceived arbitrary expectations that no one told them about. Our student teachers must observe classrooms prior to entering one, this is a good thing, but they are not privy to what they should actually be looking for when they enter an observation classroom.

They come in, they sit, they watch, but they have no idea what they are looking at or what they are looking for. Not to mention, they are often sent to some of the best schools…that’s not reality! Let them observe a tough school, and really see what they are in for, and how they can make a difference. They don’t know how to really make a productive classroom if they are merely watching the best.

Our student teachers also enter the profession with the idyllic vision of working 6 hours a day, having weekends and holidays off, and multiple 1 week to 2 month vacations. This is not the case. They know nothing about the extras. We leave school and work, then we spend the weekends working, and we spend our vacations also working. But no one tells them that! They know nothing about WASC, committees, staff meetings, or adjunct duties. Welcome to the real world :)

The Ugly

The Ugly Truth is that our student teachers are not prepared! If they were privy to the reality of being a teacher than we would not have a 45% attrition rate after 5 years in the profession. We need to be honest with our student teachers and not sugar coat the reality. Teaching is hard, it is not always fun, and may drive you mad. However, when you love your job (and all that it entails) you never work a day in your life. Knowing that you have influenced the youth in ways that no one else can, is priceless. Watching the proverbial light bulb turn on, is priceless.

Helping a child through life issues beyond your content, is priceless. There are so many rewards with being a teacher, however, there is also so much red tape. It is important that our teacher preparation programs be honest and candid with our student teachers! Show the reality, discuss the hard topics, and let them make the decision. But at bare minimum…prepare them for the reality that is teaching! It’s sucks! But it is totally worth it!

Next Week: Dance Teacher Evaluation…Do they even know what they are looking at?

As we enter the world of teacher evaluation, where do we fit in? There is no standardized testing for dance, so how are you evaluating me?

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.