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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
those who can’t, teach.” Teachers are not encouraged to seek the knowledge and understanding that would allow them to teach academically rigorous curricula.
Even teachers who attend institutions that provide a strong preparation for teaching face major challenges after they graduate. They need to make the transition from a world dominated primarily by college courses, with only some supervised teaching experiences, to a world in which they are the teachers; hence, they face the challenge of transferring what they have learned. Yet even with strong levels of initial learning, transfer does not happen immediately nor automatically (see Chapter 3). People often need help in order to use relevant knowledge that they have acquired, and they usually need feedback and reflection so that they can try out and adapt their previously acquired skills and knowledge in new environments. These environments—the schools—have an extremely important effect on the beliefs, knowledge, and skills that new teachers will draw on. It is the difficult transition, in Lee Shulman’s (1986) terms, from expert learner to novice teacher.
Many of the schools that teachers enter are organized in ways that are not consistent with new developments in the science of learning. The schools often favor “covering the curriculum,” testing for isolated sets of skills and knowledge, and solo teaching, with limited use and understanding of new technologies (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996). When student teachers enter their first classrooms, the instructional methods, curricula, and resources can be very different from the ones they learned about in teacher education programs. So although prospective teachers are often anxious to begin their student teaching and find it the most satisfying aspect of their teacher preparation (Hollins, 1995), the dissonance between this experience and their course work supports the belief that educational theory and research have little to do with classroom practice.
Most new teachers are required to “sink or swim” in their initial teaching placement (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996:39). New teachers are often given the most challenging assignments—more students with special educational needs, the greatest number of class preparations (some outside of their field of expertise), and many extracurricular duties—and they are usually asked to take on these responsibilities with little or no support from administrators or senior colleagues. It is not surprising that turnover among new teachers is extremely high, particularly in the first 3 years of teaching.
Teachers are key to enhancing learning in schools. In order to teach in a manner consistent with new theories of learning, extensive learning opportunities for teachers are required.