Thursday, 16 March 2017

Inspiring Student Teachers: It Starts with the Mentors

Dear Minister of Education and Dean of Education,

I’m writing this letter in an effort to affect change and hopefully have some kind of impact on the profession of teaching secondary science in Alberta. I have been fortunate to teach in Alberta for twenty five years and every year is rewarding.  The students I teach are fantastic human beings; more considerate with their surroundings, more caring towards their peers, more committed to diversity and inclusion.  These young people are driven to become the best our planet has ever produced and will no doubt leave a legacy we can all be proud of.

However, these students are being taught and challenged in an educational system that doesn’t often promote the type of thinking necessary to reach the goals they have ahead of them. Our system seems to intentionally or unintentionally promote the stand and deliver mode of teaching. As we all know, good educators are constructivists and actively include students to develop understanding through conversation, experimentation, modeling, peer teaching, etc.  However, no matter how we promote this philosophy through curricular change and university classes in pedagogy, new teachers are entering this profession with limited skills or lack of appropriate mentorship.

As science consultant for Edmonton Public Schools, I had the rare opportunity to visit many secondary science classrooms.  At first I was excited to watch the innovative teaching practice in science classrooms. But I was disillusioned to find that the majority of classrooms were very quiet, students were taking notes, watching a PowerPoint presentation, with little obvious engagement. As I headed back to the classroom after four years as a consultant, I was eager to start with student teachers.  My first student teacher in five years provided me with a cover letter embracing the concept of constructivism.  Imagine my excitement.  Unfortunately, this student teacher clearly did not understand its nature or importance. Upon clarification, this student decided that true constructivism was too difficult and had no background information to draw from to create lessons.  I was able to model constructivism and gave the student teacher opportunities to demonstrate understanding and appreciate the impact it has on students.

My question for the University of Alberta and the Province of Alberta is how can  we provide students the best and most effective learning environment where students collaborate, question, examine, experiment and challenge current thoughts and theories if the most prevalent teaching method is to stand and deliver with a focus on achievement and high stakes exams? I understand the Alberta Government is re-inventing the curricula for all subjects, however, no matter what changes appear on paper, the pedagogy stops with the mentor teacher. How can the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education and the Government of Alberta work together to create a system to develop mentor teachers capable of producing student teachers that can inspire science creativity and wonder in future Albertans?

Thank you for reading my letter.  I would be happy to help with the process.

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