Dr. Judith M. Newman


Original Source: http://www.nyu.edu/education/teachlearn/ifte/newman.htm

Restructuring Teacher Education
We're in one Hell of a Muddle

Judith M. Newman

Two years ago, just before the IFTE Conference in New York, I began to pull together my thoughts about teacher education. I got about half a paper written before the conference, and in spite of honorable intentions I didn't get back to the writing afterward. Events overtook me, and now two years later, looking at what I wrote then, I think about what I learned about restructuring teacher education. My experience at the University of Manitoba leads me to believe we're in a terrible muddle.

Let me start with what I wrote then because the muddle, at least at the University of Manitoba, has not changed substantially in the intervening time.

June 1995

I want to share my thoughts about restructuring teacher education from my perspective as a Dean of a Faculty of Education rather than as a language/literacy educator. My experiences over the past two years has made it clear to me we're dealing with a context that's more encompassing than simply literacy/language education. The concerns facing English/language teacher education are the same ones everyone in teacher education are attempting to deal with.

    Several factors are affecting the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba: budget cutbacks, which in turn necessitate eliminating resources for programs; unplanned attrition -- faculty not being replaced so there is no systematic rational downsizing. Pressure from government to reform -- the nature and direction of that reform contradictory; the Faculty's own reform initiatives -- which have been going on for more than five years but haven't resulted yet in any actual full-scale implementation; the university context of change -- in this case, various university wide program initiatives which are only partially supportive of the directions in which the Faculty wants to head; the broader context of school reform and the role of teacher education in such change; and enormous pressures to reduce the number of teachers in initial preparation programs because of a drastic shortage of classroom jobs for graduates.

    Then there are the many players who have a say in this particular situation -- the Faculties of Arts, Science, Human Ecology, Phys Ed and Recreation, and Music, the University of Winnipeg whose education students presently come to the University of Manitoba for their final certification year, Red River Community College with whom we run joint programs for a small number of industrial arts, business and vocational teachers; the Manitoba Teachers Society, the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents, and the Manitoba Association of School Trustees, as well as Manitoba Education and Training (the provincial government department which regulates certification -- everyone expects to have input into shaping Faculty programs. You can just imagine the complexity of the situation and how these constraints affect morale and planning activities within the Faculty.

    Let me provide some background about the Faculty of Education here. Before I joined the Faculty as Dean two years ago, people had already been engaging in extensive undergraduate program restructuring for several years. The debate which produced the most tension among Faculty members was whether the program could remain a four-year integrated/concurrent one (students taking both education and arts and science courses contemporaneously) or whether education should become consolidated into a two year program following an undergraduate degree. A second tension which affected program development was the polarization of theoretical orientation -- faculty members involved in Senior Years education were primarily concerned with transmitted knowledge, while those involved in planning for Early Years teacher preparation were operating from a more constructivist position -- they wished to develop an integrated program, with substantial school-based components, based less on 'courses' and more on large integrated, mentored experiences. The Dean at that time wanted a uniform implementation across the Faculty. He expected congruence between the Early, Middle and Senior Years Streams -- that's where things stalled.

    When I arrived, I took a different tack -- I asked program stream groups (Early, Middle, and Senior Years) to begin, not by planning a two-year program implementation, but by experimenting with the current final certification-year and implementing some of the changes they thought they'd like to see in a two-year program to discover where that would get us. In fact, that did get us somewhere.

    A group of faculty members in the Early Years Stream, working with two cohort groups of 35 students each, decided that while they wanted to work more closely with teachers, they couldn't see a way of managing school-based change; instead, they opted to build a cadre of 60-70 classroom teachers drawn from several school divisions. They went after 'exemplary' Early Years teachers and began intensive conversations with them. A part of that conversation was a Summer Institute involving nearly 80 Early Years teachers, many of whom worked with our final year students. The faculty team experimented with team building for themselves and for a while they were able to get somewhere with that. Far enough, in fact, that when they met for a week of intensive planning at the end of the year, they were able to bring several new faculty members into the process and have them become excited about the program potential that had started to emerge.

    A Middle Years group began more modestly with a single group of 30 students. There were moments in the beginning when I wasn't sure whether this team would get off the ground. However, faculty members managed to pull together enough to discuss courses and find common themes and issues they wanted to raise with prospective grades 5-8 teachers. They were able to agree upon a focus course to deal with Middle Years issues and several of the team members decided to take on a student teaching advising role and explore ways of building a partnership with a school. This group, then, adopted a school-based model of collaboration and it worked reasonably well, given that a "Middle School" concept is not well developed yet in Winnipeg/Manitoba schools.

    One thing this team learned for sure was that creating a cohort of students and having everyone working with the same group provided loads of opportunity to have students work with and become responsible for one another. By the end of the school year the co-operating schools and the mentoring teachers were strongly supportive of the initiative. The following year the team moved toward a more integrated curriculum -- that effort didn't get far because people still think in terms of 'courses' but faculty were aware they had to work more closely in terms of some common assignments, touching on common issues, making connections explicit. Not as radical a vision as Early Years, but workable.

    Two Senior Years groups emerged. One group decided to build a cohort of 25 physical education majors. In some ways they went farthest of all. These four faculty members were able to integrate many foundations courses with curriculum and instruction experiences. Much of the program was delivered primarily in a single high school and they opted for an extended ten week practicum during the winter term which involved the classroom teachers in a major mentoring way. Again, the faculty team members were surprised by the strength of the cohort and the connections students were able to make between the theoretical and practical. Mind you, participating faculty members also experienced serious resistance from students who had a hard time, initially, figuring out who was teaching them what. As one student complained "I don't know which notebook to put these notes in!" The second year, the team expanded their efforts to include three more schools. While showing some valuable potential for program change, this initiative was discontinued after the second year, however, because the rest of the Senior Years faculty members rejected the model as viable for new program development.

    A second Senior Years effort got underway, but much more modest. A team of eight faculty members met with administrators and teachers from eight 'progressive' high schools in three different school divisions. The attempt, here, was to negotiate a program collaboratively. This involved monthly team meetings (faculty members and school personnel) to hash out beliefs/assumptions about education, about initial teacher preparation, about the role of the schools and the role of the faculty. They spent a year exploring how to work together. In the end, they decided to begin by diverging only slightly from the current, traditional course-based program -- they decided to move two elective courses off-campus to be offered by faculty/teacher teams to two cohorts of students -- one in four 'north' Winnipeg schools, one in four 'south'. Their focus was on exploring how to use the discipline expertise available in the schools to augment the declining, or absent, resources in the Faculty -- a crucial inquiry because with unplanned attrition (and no faculty replacements) the Faculty becomes less and less able to provide instruction in several traditional high school subjects.

That's as far as I got with the prose at the time. I based my presentation at the conference on the notes which follow.

June 1995

What did I take away from this experimenting?


  • Much less whole group instruction and more independent study -- schools without walls
  • Learning as inquiry
  • Much more negotiated curriculum
  • Independent study modules
  • Students working collaboratively
  • Substantially increased practica components with classroom teachers as mentors
  • Action research driven
  • Faculty members as players in inquiry teams
  • Not subject based or discipline based teaching but problem based/action research based
  • More focus on learning than on teaching
  • Learn from learners
  • Use of various electronic technologies -- www, other internet capabilities, email, desk-top publishing (not taught as courses but used)
  • Marrying of undergraduate teaching with graduate courses -- classroom teachers need to learn how to mentor
  • Much more collaborative teaching at the Faculty
  • Very different forms of assessment/evaluation at the Faculty
  • Have to be much more flexible and able to adapt quickly to changed circumstances
  • Less based on 'courses' and more on experiences and opportunities to discuss the problems that arose and what one might do about them
  • Exploration of expert knowledge out of the problems not up front


  • Have to learn how to work in teams without having to devote inordinate amounts of time to the planning
  • Have to learn to identify goals but achieve them not by careful advanced planning but by starting out and improvising as they go
  • Learn how to be tolerant of other people's knowledge and ideas and much less protective of their own turf
  • Going to have to be able to change direction quickly and reinvent on the fly with students, with classroom teachers, with the university
  • Notions of what constitutes research will have to change -- scholarly activity will have to much more connected with professional practice and inquiry/action research driven
  • Willing to give up current expertise and develop new expertise very fast
  • Going to have be become entrepreneurial -- see opportunities for developing operating funds to replace declining government funds
  • Learn how to mentor one another, classroom teachers, students

June 1997

What intrigues me at this point is how my perception of what has to happen to teacher education had a coherent shape. Two years later, following a mutiny that resulted in my stepping down as Dean, after a year of administrative leave, and a decision to leave the University of Manitoba altogether, I still believe these are the ways in which programs and faculty members will have to change if teacher education is to have any impact on learning in schools.

It's not just a matter of English/Language Arts teacher preparation -- it's all teacher education. The longer I work with children and their teachers, the more I see the impact of standardization on individual learners. In the intervening two years, the Government of Manitoba has instituted a wide-ranging program of standardized testing -- at grades three, six, nine and twelve! The provincial Department of Education has worked closely with the other three western Canadian provinces to create standardized curriculum for the four western provinces (a precursor for a pan-Canadian curriculum which has been a firm objective of the CMEC (Council of Ministers of Education of Canada). Funding to schools and universities has continued to be cut. Legislation has been passed which eliminates the rights of teachers to engage in collective bargaining, to participate in curriculum development, to have much of a say about the conditions in which they work.

As far as the Faculty of Education is concerned a recent letter from the Minister of Education to the Deans and Heads of the various teacher education programs in Manitoba makes it clear that much of the decision-making regarding teacher preparation and continuing education could be taken out of `our' hands.

April 3, 1997 from the Minister of Education and Training
...In moving towards implementation I will be referring a number of related issues to two bodies which I believe are well placed to provide insight and helpful advice: the Council on Post-Secondary Education, and the Board of Teacher Education and Certification.

The Council on Post-Secondary Education will be asked to advise on the following matters:

  • That the current delivery sites for teacher education be reviewed, and recommend whether or not the present configuration of sites be maintained or altered;
  • That the current intake of students into teacher education programs be reviewed, and recommendations be provided as to whether this number should be maintained, expanded, or diminished;
  • That the feasibility and desirability of a common graduate studies program in Education among the University of Manitoba, Brandon University, and the University of Winnipeg be reviewed and assessed.

The Board of Teacher Education and Certification will be asked to study and report on the following:

  • Given that the practicum component of the teacher education program is integral to the successful preparation of an aspiring teacher, how can the practicum be improved? What linkages need to be in place between student teacher, faculty member, principal, and cooperating teacher to ensure that the in-school experience is mutually beneficial and relevant?
  • Moving from 120 credit hours to 150 credit hours should not mean more of the same. How can curriculum content in the teacher education program be made more relevant? What changes would BOTEC (Board of Teacher Education and Certification) suggest to the academic/professional studies portion of the program to better prepare young teachers for life after university and in our school classrooms? What advisory/monitoring structure would BOTEC suggest to ensure that the recommended changes are in fact implemented and updated as necessary?

In view of the fact that implementation of the 150 credit hours model is targeted for September 1998, a prompt response to these questions is desired. I am asking for both bodies to give me their replies by or prior to October 30, 1997. ...

Now this is an interesting kettle of fish! I joined this conversation four years ago. Nothing absolutely nothing has changed in that time. These were the very issues on the table at the first BOTEC meeting I attended in June 1993.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh -- the Minister has f-i-n-a-l-l-y agreed to increase the number of credit hours for teacher certification -- this will permit the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba to orchestrate a two-year after-degree B.Ed. Will that help the deliberations? Not much, I shouldn't imagine. The players at the table are still the same -- the Department of Education, the Faculties of Education, the Manitoba Teachers Society, the superintendents and trustees -- all with various vested interests and quite different views of what should count in the preparation of teachers.

A September 1998 implementation? For that to occur BOTEC would have to agree on what elements should be in an initial preparation program, who would be responsible for dealing with them, what `courses' should be offered, etc. Given the membership of the group and the fact that these discussions have been going on long before I was a direct participant, I don't hold out much hope for BOTEC being able to reach any agreement. That leaves the Minister free to lay out a program of teacher education from within her Department. Whether this current Conservative government would actually do that remains to be seen but given recent changes to education in Ontario, for example, it's not inconceivable.

Yes, teacher education is in a terrible muddle. With many faculty members wedded to a transmission/expert model of teaching, with the government grabbing control of the teacher education agenda, with the Teachers Society fighting for survival, a thoughtful, reflective, restructuring of teacher education isn't likely. The kind of changes I believe we need aren't going to see the light of day.

Is there any hope for teachers then? The answer is as it has always been -- individual teachers, caring, motivated by their concern for their students, engaged in developing and changing themselves. Can I as a teacher educator do anything to help them? I'm convinced that the underlying problems in teacher education are essentially political, not educational, and any efforts at resolution must be political. That means each teacher educator assuming responsibility to work collaboratively with those teachers interested in transforming themselves. It's as simple and as difficult as that!