Hands Up: A suggested reform idea for teacher training

Protests about Ontario education seem to be everyday affairs! Premier Doug Ford wants cheaper teachers! Parents want better teachers! Students want inspiring teachers! Teachers want better learning conditions for their students, and many are wanting, and in fact, are leaving for other jobs because they feel powerless to provide what they know Ontario children need.

Hands down, our children are the biggest losers when adults do not get it right!

The challenges to meet the demands, expectations and needs of all the players in the educational ballgame seem insurmountable. I want to throw a few pebbles of thought towards our Teacher Training designers in bringing about change on the sea of educational reforms being considered by our captains. I have a huge bucket of pebbles to skip and only a few can be thrown out here.

Premier Doug Ford can save Ontario taxpayers a lot of money on Teacher Training. For a start, he might consider totally eliminating the costly expenditures for university lecture halls, classroom space and offices allotted for Bachelor of Educational programs in my opinion. He can save quite a bit more on staff, classroom support and physical resources, while improving the teacher training learning experience and outcomes, dramatically, as well.

Research is plentiful on the alarming rate at which teachers leave the profession, some studies suggesting the average teacher leaves after 5 years or less. Many reasons are given but the mighty chasm of disconnect between teacher training and the reality in the classroom, is definitely one.

So, I suggest a few changes.

How about we let our student teachers spend their training time in classrooms with real Ontario children, so space at a university will not be needed at all? The professors can work in the schools our children attend and from their kitchen tables at home in their blue striped pyjamas. One third of the professors can be back in the classroom demonstrating with excellence what they teach is possible and desirable in schools to their student teachers. They can be rotated cyclically every three years through one year of high-level performance in a regular randomly selected Ontario classroom which should be a condition for maintaining their positions teaching young teachers how it should be done. This should guarantee that there will be no mighty chasm between the preparation and the reality of the job! If the academic elite who drive the programming in our schools cannot deliver it themselves in an Ontario classroom under the same working conditions expected of teachers, every three years, then they should not be advocating it at all! Let these folks walk the talk, and then, and only then should politicians be allowed to implement what they recommend for ordinary teachers in regular classrooms in Ontario.

Classroom teachers will benefit greatly from this change, because they will get increased daily support and assistance in their classrooms from the approximately 11,000 student teachers registered in teacher training programs in Ontario in any given year, at no cost to anyone. We could likely reduce tuition costs for these young students as well, because they will be contributing to educational staff while learning themselves. The student teachers will join the strongest troops in the trenches and experience the reality of dealing with children from the very best ones in our forces. The book learning our professors think essential on such topics as Piaget and Montessori or the Education Act can be assigned for self-directed learning and will happen anywhere the students want on their own time, after the school day is finished. Consultation between a professor and student can happen online with email or applications like FaceTime after school is out. Group discussions can happen at Pubs like the Prescott over a beer on Friday at a TGIF gathering, after the school week has ended and restoration from survival in the system must start and be accomplished by Monday morning. Any occasional large group setting required for anything can be rented or scheduled for free in our own schools and community centres.

On the first day of Teacher Training let student teachers enter a classroom available in a school anywhere possible. If none exist for September, try a little flexibility and start the classes in mid-August, or run them in regular schools on the weekend. Let them be totally surprised with the loud driving music playing with the addictive rhythms of the 1981 disco international hit ‘Hands up!’ Let them see the professors smiling, laughing and gyrating to the beat! Let them watch their leaders grab the student’s hands, yank them out of their chairs and get a disco party started!

‘Hands Up, Baby, hands up!

Gimme your heart baby,

gimme, gimme!

Hands up Baby, hands up! …

They will exuberantly sing out the catchy lyrics with their charges! They will thrill to the dance party with Ottawan, moving and grooving to ‘Hands Up! Student teachers will be excited, not bored stiff with one more dull lecture possibly on one more useless topic which will be forgotten in no time once they actually get working in schools with children.

Then out of breath, hearts beating fast and minds filled with the exhilaration created by the song and with its words still running in their heads, let them collapse exhausted, huffing and puffing back into their seats. Then they will be asked,

‘Did you have a great time? Did you wonder what kind of ‘crazy’ teacher you were getting and what wild creative approach you might be exposed to? Did you feel curiosity and excitement about what you might learn from these rather unique professors? Do you think you might look forward to this class and be sure to come every day? Would you like a classroom full of kids with that same amazing feeling and children with ‘Hands Up!’ waving wildly to answer or speak, when you are the teacher standing before them?’

If you get a resounding “Yes!” these eager newbies just might have the makings of an inspiring teacher!

Next have them meet Marina Flak, a Movati fitness instructor in Zumba, Drums and Aquafit. Only occasionally does one enter a fitness class and know you are in the presence of brilliance in the field. And when you take a class from this woman, you know she is utterly special and inspirational.

The class will meet Marina through a video of one of her Aquafit classes with its driving rock and Latin beats. They will jot notes about her performance, her face, her body, her style. They will, observe the response she evokes in the senior women in the water and study how she gets that connection which motivates. They will consider what is obvious to anyone who sees her in action even with no knowledge of her field of instruction. They will reflect on characteristics that make Marina a world class, inspiring and motivating teacher. Let our professors tell our student teachers they must forever strive to be one, too!

Students will come up with words, thoughts and ideas like,’Energetic’, ‘Positive’,

‘Exciting’, ‘Motivating’, ‘Involved’,’’Totally competent’, ‘Absolutely confident in her skills’, ‘Beloved by her students no matter their ability’, and so on.

Then the students will be required to individually write two or three paragraphs about the most inspiring teacher they personally ever had in school themselves. They will close their eyes and imagine that impressive teacher from their own school experience on the classroom stage. They will write in their best English grammar and sentence structure the characteristics that made that teacher an absolute standout. They will detail what impressed them most. They will Include the teachers name and possible contact information.

Following that, the desks will be regrouped for some collaborative work. In circles of 4-8 students, they will look at each other’s assignments and talk about the people who inspired them, while noting the traits which surface and are common to many of them.  Words like Knowledgeable, Confident, Energetic, Unique, Creative, Funny, Mesmerizing, Involved, Exciting, Directed, Organized, Driven, Oriented, Encouraging, Enlightening, Stimulating, Empathic, Effervescent, Beloved, Happy, Original, and Passionate should make the list. They will discuss how those traits made them feel in their classes and prepare a list on chart paper to hang on the wall.

The larger full class will come back together and a discussion and sharing of what each smaller group came up with will ensue.

Next, they will check the spelling, grammar and sentence structures in each other’s writings. They will work together and discuss what needs correction or improvement and why. All sentences will be rewritten correctly on large flip chart paper and posted. Relevant resources and bibliographies will be available to help anyone requiring further skill development in the basics, which they will use in self-directed study sessions.

At the end of the session, the students will be told that they will only graduate if they demonstrate the traits of some of these inspiring teachers. The time they take to prove worthy of graduation could vary. Those characteristics of inspiring top-notch teachers are what they must develop and demonstrate to pass. Videos of their own teaching performance in a 40-minute class will be required at regular intervals and they will be reviewed and assessed by classmates, students and professors. The acquisition of masterful inspirational teaching skill will be their quest. The proof will be in the pudding!

Finally if they do not think they can become such a self-starting, hardworking inspirational kind of teacher and dedicate themselves towards this quintessential goal, they should pick up theirs books, walk out of the school, withdraw from the program and check out other potential options in Accounting, Law or a Trade perhaps.

Because there is no seat for them, anymore, in Ontario Education!

As well complete competency in reading, written expression and mathematics at the grade twelve level is their responsibility to achieve. It will be tested near the conclusion of their program. A comprehensive test of factual knowledge in any subject area they want to be certified to teach will also be required in order to list that subject on their teaching certificate. Just as no one wants a surgeon operating on their heart who does not have 100% knowledge of how to operate on hearts, or a pilot flying their Boeing 747 to China who cannot demonstrate 100% achievement in a comprehensive test proving his ability to do it, no child in Ontario should be taught by a teacher who cannot read, write and do basic mathematics at the high school level without 100% ability themselves. Nor should they receive instruction from anyone only one step ahead of the class in the subject area being delivered.

The homework assignment on the first day in a Teacher Training program will be to contact their most inspiring teacher and see if students can spend some time in their classes for practicums. Every student will spend many, many months watching and working with only these kinds of inspiring teachers. Once a list of these teachers extraordinaire is established, professors will arrange a schedule for teachers in training so they can train with only the very, very best.

Sunny Ritter studies at the Vienna University School of Music to develop her child genius at the piano. Lucas Porter also a prodigy studied with the best at the Glenn Gould School to advance his world class ability on the keyboard. Those aspiring to a stellar performance career in the Arts study at the Juilliard School with the top dancers, singers and actors in the field.

Young student teachers need to study under the best too. And those exemplary inspiring teachers who take them under their wing and set student teachers on fire with a passion to inspire children about learning, should be extremely well paid by the government for this contribution to education in Ontario.

The time in Teacher Training will be hands on during the school day, every day, all day. Students will rotate into many, many classrooms and keep a journal of the challenges they see. Their major written assignment will be to discuss the problems they see in the schools and research thoughts about rectifying them. A video of themselves speaking about what they have learned from keeping their journals and preparing this written essay in their own cursive written hand, will ensure the student alone is able to research, write well, and to articulate the learning, without anyone else doing the work. This paper and video will be done after hours and on weekends, which will prepare the young teachers for their vocation ahead, which demands copious preparation and marking be done at home. They might as well get used to the fact that excellent inspiring teachers put in lots of time beyond the school day hours.

As for evaluation of our student teachers? What if we simply ask their professors, their fellow students, their practicums teachers, the children they teach and themselves for their opinion. Only one almost universal opinion is really needed to save a lot of time and money on other strategies. Simply get most of all these participants in the Teacher Training to say that in their opinion “This student teacher is ready to be an inspiring teacher!”

Ontario children deserve only inspiring teachers. How about we help develop only those kinds of teachers and graduate only the most inspirational? Perhaps this article will inspire the professors who train our ‘Brightest and Best’ to aspire to and achieve this status. I think it would cost quite a bit less than current traditional strategies and actually be considerably better at achieving the outcomes sought.

I would love to know every Ontario teacher is truly inspirational right out of the gate.

Hands up, baby, hands up! Inspiring, stimulating, knowledgeable teachers in every classroom!

Hands down the best and only possible kinds of teachers we want, need and should train for Ontario children!