My Experience with Teacher Credentialing and Professional Development

by Justin Skycak on

It's centered around political ideology rather than the science of learning.

There exist learning strategies that have been scientifically shown to improve student learning, such as mastery learning, spaced repetition, the testing effect, and varied practice.

These learning strategies have been researched extensively since the early to mid 1900s, with key findings being successfully reproduced over and over again since then.

Yet, when I completed my teaching credential from 2020-21 and attended numerous professional developments (PDs) from 2019-23, not once did I hear any mention of these learning strategies!

Instead, the focus was 100% on diversity, equity, & inclusion: readings (and an essay) on hegemonic heteronormativity, anti-racism training, “sharing circle” training, and even a presentation on the gender unicorn, complete with an extraordinarily complex gender classification flowchart, just to name a few examples.

Forget the science of learning – even the most obvious practical skills that a teacher would need to exercise on a daily basis, such as managing a rowdy classroom, communicating with parents, holding students accountable for their work, and dealing with academic dishonesty, were not covered at all in teacher credentialing nor PD.

However, there was no shortage of pointless activities.

I vividly remember a virtual PD in which the first 30 minutes was spent going around the room of 30+ teachers, the PD leader asking each teacher to describe the weather outside in their physical location and explaining how their personal feelings that day related to the weather.

At another PD, there was an activity involving a circle of traffic cones, each cone with a different emoji taped to the top. The PD leader read through a list of words and asked the teachers to walk over to the cone that they felt matched their feelings in response to the word.

I wish I could attribute all this nonsense to a disconnect between teachers and school administrators. But that illusion was shattered during a PD sharing circle, when I witnessed several teachers approach the circle leader afterwards and ask if they could take classes or receive training material to become good sharing circle leaders themselves. (These were high school teachers, not elementary school teachers!)

I also wish that my experience with teacher credentialing was an edge case, a dysfunction that is not widespread. But if you look at the curricula of standard teacher credentialing programs, and even the schools of education within well-reputed universities, you’ll find the same phenomenon. The curricula are focused entirely on making education engaging, diverse, and unbiased, and there’s little to nothing about the science of learning.

This lack of rigor would not pass in other disciplines. Engineers are required to take plenty of rigorous courses on math and physics. Doctors are required to take plenty of rigorous courses on biology and chemistry. But educators are not required to take a single course on the science of learning, much less a rigorous one.