An Interview with Martin Haberman

Mar 14, 2005 by

Bill Gaetke and Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Martin Haberman is a teacher educator who has been directly or indirectly involved in shaping every major development in American education over the past 35 years. The most widely known of his developments was the National Teacher Corps, which was based on his intern program in Milwaukee. He is an adviser to alternative certification programs around the country and has developed effective ways of bringing more minorities into teaching. His interview for selecting teachers and principals who will be successful with children in poverty is used in cities throughout the country. Currently, his developmental efforts are focused on helping to resolve the crisis in urban schools serving 12 million at-risk students by helping these school districts ” grow their own ” teachers and principals.

Martin Haberman

Professor Haberman grew up in New York City. His formal education includes bachelors and master’s degrees in sociology from Brooklyn College and New York University. These were followed with a second master’s and a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. His advisor, Florence B. Stratemeyer, helped shape his commitment to educating a free people.

In addition to an extremely long list of publications (seven books, 45 chapters, 200 articles and papers) and numerous research studies, Professor Haberman served 6 years as the editor of the Journal of teacher Education and 11 years as a Dean at the University of Wisconsin, trying to apply the successes of extension in rural America to the problems of life in urban areas.

Professor Haberman serves on eight editorial boards. He holds several awards for his writing, a Standard Oil Award for Excellence in Teaching, a special award from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and AACTE Medal for offering a Hunt Lecture and the Pomeroy Award (1990). In January, 1989, Rhode Island College awarded him an honorary doctorate. He is a distinguished member of the Association of Teacher Educators and a Laureate member of Kappa Delta Pi. In 1993, the Wisconsin Board of Regents named him a Distinguished Professor. In 1995, the Wisconsin School Board Association named him Teacher Educator of the Year. His book Star Teachers of Children in Poverty. Professor Haberman has developed more teacher education programs that have prepared more teachers for children in poverty than anyone in American Education. Here, he responds to questions about the current state of affairs in education.

Question:  What Should a “Highly Qualified Teacher” Mean?

Response: What a “highly qualified teacher” means is a function of who says so. This should not be the case.  “Highly qualified” should mean that the children of these teachers learn and achieve. “Highly qualified” should predict student accomplishments not make promises that will never be kept.  “Highly qualified” should not be a label stuck on the foreheads of 22-year girls and boys because they have completed university based teacher education programs but who will not seek employment in poverty schools or who will quit or fail if they do.

Question: Why is there such a concern over the meaning of this term?

Response: It is in the Leave No Child Behind Act and requires school districts to only hire such individuals as teachers.  The issue that has transformed this long-smoldering debate into a volcanic eruption is the widespread growth of alternative certification. It is now clear that the 120 largest urban districts serving seven million diverse children in urban poverty cannot get the teachers they need from traditional university based teacher education programs. Forty-two states have now legitimized some form of alternative certification. This enables school districts to recruit college graduates with subject matter knowledge but without professional training to become fully responsible teachers of record.

As Schools of Education see the power they had to control state licensing evaporating they realize that they are in a fight for their very existence. In desperation almost every urban university now offers something they call  “alternative certification”.  The national associations representing Schools of Education even offer sessions at their annual meetings devoted to how to start such programs.

Question: What does the term actually mean in practice?

Response: In many schools serving diverse children in poverty a “highly qualified” teacher simply means one who can maintain order without sending too many students to the office. To the professional educators high quality is determined by input and process criteria. Did the individual complete an accredited teacher education program and pass a written test of best practice?  To the those committed to only subject matter knowledge the criteria of high quality are a written test of content knowledge and the absence of professional training.  If knowledge of how to teach were the primary attribute of high quality teachers then professors of Education could effectively teach in the Oakland, Baltimore or New York City Schools.  If knowledge of content were all that were necessary, then professors of math could teach in the middle schools of Kansas City. Those who seriously believe these things are dangerous!

Question: Are you saying that knowledge of subject matter is not the most important part of the teacher’s knowledge base?

Response: There can be no question that the teacher’s knowledge of the subject matter to be taught is basic and must be the heart of any regulations regarding teacher licensure. The next step is to determine whether those possessed of this knowledge base can relate to and interact with diverse children in positive ways while employed in the mindless bureaucracies of the major urban districts. This is something that can be assessed by observing candidates interacting with children and youth or by the Star Urban Teacher Interview.  The third step is to assess the learning of the children of these teachers and award the label “highly qualified” to teachers on the basis of results. In the meanwhile the more appropriate term is  “Highly Qualified to Begin”. This label should be used with those who have the first two qualities: subject matter knowledge and the demonstrated ability to relate to children and youth in failing districts.

Question:  How can some of our very best teachers be expected to be successful when they are placed in the worst situations?

Response: What criteria are you using to dub a graduate as being among “some of our very best teachers”? Are you giving them this title because they got an “A” in student teaching or graduated with a high GPA? Neither of those things predicts success in subsequent practice. To declare individuals to be among  “some of our very best teachers” they must have been teachers of record and demonstrated effectiveness with diverse children in urban poverty in chaotic bureaucracies. It’s nonsense to refer to a new graduate as “among some of our very best teachers”.

Question: Are you saying that beginners should be placed in the worst situations?

Response: They will be. It is the responsibility of teacher education programs to prepare teachers to be successful in the real world, not in the best of all non-existent ones.

Question:  Is it fair to the beginners to place them in these situations?

Response: Is it fair to seven million diverse children and youth in urban poverty to be in situations where the classes are too large, materials are inadequate, there is inadequate computer access, where they are over tested and tracked, and where school budgets are half of what they are in the “best situations”? If you are concerned about who is being treated unfairly, remember that the clients are the children not the teachers. If there are children in these situations, then they must have teachers who can be successful with them in these situations.

Question: How might inner city students best be taught in a high stakes testing environment so that they are enabled to reach acceptable levels of achievement on high stakes assessments such as the state CRTs  (Criterion Referenced Tests) while at the same time learning to become thoughtful, reflective people who know how to use their minds well and are inclined to pursue a life long love affair with learning?

Response: There is no question that tests of student achievement will remain the primary criterion for evaluating schools, principals and teachers. In the schools serving diverse children in poverty high stakes testing will determine which schools will be closed, which principals will be retained, which students will get into high school and which students will graduate. We must prepare teachers who will be able to deal with these realities. Whether teachers will be paid on the basis of student achievement scores is not the issue because that will not happen. The issue is that teachers will be pressured and in many systems brutalized into focusing their time and energy on the limited content of the tests. The curriculum must not be narrowed down to only what it tested for. When this happens we will have cemented the difference in curricula; those in more advantaged settings while get everything from higher order thinking, love of learning, advanced content while those in the urban areas will get a curriculum of what is tested for in schools where the expectations have been narrowed down to “get a job and stay out of jail.”

Question: So what is the solution here?

 Response: The real world solution is to get teachers who can do both: prepare students to do well on high stakes tests and teach the advanced content we would all prefer.

Question: How is that done?

Response: This is done by having teachers who themselves have the advanced knowledge, who are genuine learners themselves and who are in effect role models for the students. Most states use content tests for licensure to assess teachers’ knowledge base. While necessary, this is not sufficient. In order for the learning that goes beyond the tests to happen these teachers need more than the content knowledge; they need to be able to connect with the children and the attributes that will keep them working in very thick bureaucracies. Selection is the surest way to secure individuals with these attributes.  I have some confidence this can be done because I see teachers at all levels, working under really negative conditions. who are doing it. Their children are learning important knowledge and passing high stakes tests. Our job is to get more of these teachers.

Question: So how can the “star teachers” with the content and the relationship skills  be attracted to, and retained, in inner city schools that are increasingly under great pressure to meet state standards and are vulnerable to being labeled “low performing” and therefore subjected to various sanctions?

Response: We need to stop focusing teacher preparation on individuals who are young, undergraduates and focus more on adults who are college graduates over thirty. The teachers from traditional teacher certification programs are choosing not to teach in record numbers because they don’t want to work with diverse children in urban poverty. In my state, these “fully qualified” individuals who never take teaching jobs is between 60 and 70 per cent.  Of the approximately five per cent who take jobs in the schools with the greatest needs, 50 per cent quit or fail in less than five years. In my city, 50 per cent are gone in three years. The urban schools of America are being staffed by individuals who are denigrated as “retreads” or “career switchers” and similar euphemisms denoting they are not the “regular” people we would really want in the schools if everything were working, as it should. The star teachers, with the content knowledge, the relationship skills and the persistence to keep teaching in chaotic bureaucracies are most likely to be found among college graduates over thirty years of age living in urban areas who choose teaching as a mature adult.

By marketing in African American churches, Latino community agencies, and by word of mouth, it is possible to attract large number of adults with the potential to become star teachers of diverse children in urban poverty. In my own city, we have a list of over 1,000 such individuals with minimal outreach and marketing efforts. Traditional teacher education needs to stop waiting for the wrong populations to present themselves for training and proactively recruit the populations that are appropriate to this teaching. Finally, traditional approaches focusing on young undergraduates have fewer than 6% minorities. By focusing on urban adults we have programs with over 40% minorities.

Question: How is the movement toward virtual or cyber school going to affect teachers and teacher education?

Response: In my state, we have districts in which students enroll under the state’s open enrolment law but who do not actually attend classes there. They are taught at home by parents using a computer and a curriculum provided by the for-profit district’s partner. The district manages the school and hires parents and administrators to support the parents. For the burgeoning number of parents engaged in home schooling, this is in essence a free curriculum. In my state, under the open enrolment law, every student who signs up brings the district $5,000 in state aid. This was set assuming the child would be attending a bricks and mortar school. Now, the district can buy the curriculum for about $1,700 from its for-profit partner and keep the remainder. Proponents say virtual schooling will help in shortage areas such as math and science and in rural areas without access to all the course options.  Opponents argue that this is just a way to distort the definition of Public education and support home schooling.

Question: What other trends do you see affecting teacher education in future?

Response: The most obvious is that health costs, which double every year, will make it impossible for teachers’ salaries to ever improve; it will remain an undervalued job. Second, the economic recession will motivate large numbers of strong insensitives who would normally quit to keep their jobs in schools. Third, the burgeoning national debt will also reduce aid to states, which in turn will reduce aids to localities causing layoffs, larger classes and less support for essential materials and equipment. Finally, I expect the achievement gap to become accepted as if it is an inevitability, rather than something we should be trying our best to close.

Question: Are there positives?

Response: The irrelevance of traditional teacher education to diverse children in urban poverty will become known and understood by more constituencies.  More viable forms of teacher education will develop that represent what we know about what works in preparing teachers for succeeding and staying in mismanaged bureaucracies.


Editor’s Note:

Dr. Haberman’s new book, Star Teachers: The Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers of Diverse Children and Youth in Poverty – 2005 will be out soon. For advanced orders contact:

In 2004 Dr. Haberman was awarded the Distinguished Alumni of Columbia University in Education.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.