Social and Cultural Changes Reflected in Teacher Training

Teacher training programs have changed dramatically over the last century. Not all of the changes have been for the better. What teachers learned has shifted from child development and curriculum to learning theories to standards to computer literacy to maintaining current documentation. Little by little, what has been lost is the focus on the child, the whole child.

Shifts Seem To Have Occurred By Decades

Teachers trained before the 1950s had firm foundations in child development. Scarcity had driven education for many years during the wars and Depression; there was little variety (or availability) of textbooks and educational materials. Teachers taught limited content that children were developmentally ready to receive. Individuals and classes performed through oral recitations. Memorization, drill and practice of specific skills were the normal methods of instruction. Reading instruction was the visual memorization of vocabulary words. Schools had more structure (silent students, on-task, hands raised to be called on, etc.). Discipline, evident inside and outside the classroom, reflected communities' influences on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

The 1950s were marked by scientific progress and great commercialism. After World War II and the development of television, our world exploded into everyone's consciousness. The GI Bill sent thousands of men to college, a goal most could only have dreamed of before. Because they valued education and what education could bring, our culture began the shift from "good physical jobs" in assembly line plants to "better intellectual jobs" representing companies and corporations. Horizons and potentials had been expanded and education (meaning knowledge) was the key to everything. Reading instruction shifted to phonics which gives reasons for how we say and spell words. Instructional content expanded with information gained from international trade and travel.

In the 1960s college students rebelled against seemingly everything and "free thought" and mainstream drug usage began. Inquiry, trained by the scientific method, became a personal process and goal. The young adults cast aside traditions and affiliations to embrace anything new. The die was cast within education. Head Start developed to try to compensate for the effects of poverty; unfortunately, it did not even though it became the new "day care" for the poor who could not teach their children readiness skills. Educators learned to write lesson plans with words such as appreciate, enjoy and experience. Reading instruction shifted again to language experience; this meant that the child's natural language was the way to teach reading because the child directed his/her learning. The drill and practice methods disappeared because they were "old and boring". School integration and bussing began; culture shock in the classroom also occurred as students brought the problems of poverty into the middle class schools. Behavior standards changed because communities changed.

In the 1970s there was a searching for stability in the schools. The "freedom" movement had exploded traditions. Learning theories developed and the shift away from child development began in earnest. Researchers began to drive education. One theory, that any content could be taught at any level of development, sounded the death knell for child development and the influence of language on thought and perception. Psychologists had developed behavioral learning theories and educators learned to write behavioral objectives for lesson planning (observable outcomes). Reading instruction blended phonics with a heavy emphasis on visual patterns within vocabulary development. Teacher manuals, once the repository for answers to content questions, now have expanded lesson suggestions. Supplementary instructional materials, designed to help special education students learn, proliferated because there was available funding. Curricular materials began having a multi-cultural focus, silently transforming our culture from white-dominant to focus on different ethnicities. Publishers marketed aesthetic books that reflected social changes. The economics of education began to dictate policy as politicians wanted education reform (more results for the expenditures).

In the 1980s the pendulum settled as individual rights confused society. The civil rights movement demonstrated there was not one identity in America, so a new one had to evolve. Politicians demanded education reform for a workforce performance able to compete (dominate) in a growing global economy. People had migrated a great deal since the 1950s. Educators discovered that transience affected academic achievement. Imposing standards for education meant everyone had to learn exactly the same content at each grade level. Curricular standards began to develop, first with curriculum/content and then, eventually, to specific skills. Publishers, having lost the supplementary materials market, sold new textbooks with more photographs and color to replace duller appearing ones. With the housing "flip" mentality developing, families needed to incomes to live; divorces affected children both emotionally and economically. Drugs became both available and a source of income for some families.

In the 1990s jobs began moving overseas, so there was pressure to produce a highly competitive workforce. The low-skilled manufacturing jobs with union wages disappeared, and high school drop-outs no longer could compete for the available jobs. Incorporating computers into every level of jobs required emphasizing computer literacy training in schools for everyone. Mid-level management jobs disappeared in economic shifts and left few levels of "decision makers" in corporations; the Japanese management style had come to American, which meant that everyone had to have strong critical thinking skills. The low level skills of previous decades (memorize, know, comprehend, summarize) that took into account variations in child development were replaced with "higher thinking skills" vocabulary (construct, apply, examine, analyze, formulate, synthesize, justify and evaluate) that presumed everyone had equal language and cognitive abilities. Governmental spending, once based on inflationary times, was out of control and started to define politicians' futures. Accountability for funding began with the welfare-to-work efforts that failed because no one had noticed the skills gap between the unemployed or unemployable and the employed.

In the 2000s the accountability that politicians demanded shifted from the social services to education. The No Child Left Behind Act forced schools into finding ways to document success. This shift forced educators, instead of teaching a whole child, to now produce a product. Skills in students had to be measured just as production quality control measures do on the assembly line. Attendance, behavior, reading, math and writing scores on the state tests determined the fate of school personnel. The problem wasn't with the teachers and administrators. Manufacturers require raw materials consistently to be at a specific standard. Schools have no control over the "raw material" that enrolls, because, even with Head Start, Even Start, preschools and day cares, there is variability within people. Not everyone has the same talents and skills, aptitudes or abilities. Not everyone has the same level of physical, mental and/or emotional development at any given age. Not everyone learns the same or at the same rate. These variations finally demonstrated to politicians that they cannot mandate school performance levels; it will not work because people are not manufactured products.

What Is To Come?

There are vestiges of some elements in some schools and communities. Private schools such as Montessori and Walden schools have small group instruction happening through physical exploration before moving to content memorization and mastery. Some private and charter schools combine enrichment activities with traditional, developmental curriculum instruction. Magnet schools require that students maintain strict academic and behavioral standards. Publishers' teacher manuals have many developmentally appropriate activities and considerations for learners with different skills levels, English proficiency, and learning styles.