The Myth of the “Fully Qualified” Bright Young Teacher

May 2, 2012 by

Martin Haberman (1932- 2012)

Martin Haberman (1932- 2012)
Distinguished Professor
School of Education
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
2011 Last Publication


The high frequency of beginning teachers being young females is traced in a brief review of the history of teacher education. The argument is made that the high turnover of beginning teachers, particularly in schools serving diverse students in poverty, is too costly to the schools and too harmful to the students to be continued. Teacher recruitment practices in the schools and candidate selection into teacher preparing institutions which maintain this situation are identified

The stages of adult development according to three theoretic formulations are presented. The nature of young adulthood in these theories is contrasted with the developmental needs of young adults hired as beginning teachers. The process by which school students shape and control the behavior and practice of young teachers is analyzed. Suggestions for altering the quitter/failure rate of young beginning teachers are offered.


We are not damaged nearly as much by the things we don’t know as we are by the things we do know that just aren’t so. How did we develop the belief that beginning teachers should be young men and women between the ages of 20 – 25? I recently rented a car at the airport and noticed a large sign on the counter that read: “We do not rent vehicles to individuals under 25.” The attendant at a second counter informed me that they had a similar policy of not renting to those under 25. At the remaining three counters I was informed that they would rent cars to those under 25 but that they then required insurance at a substantially higher rate.

The school bus company in my city has had a “Drivers Wanted” sign out front for as long as I can remember. I stopped in and asked if he would hire anyone below the age of 25 and he said, “No way. The insurance, if you can get it, is triple.” In a recent conversation I asked a doctoral student who was an insurance actuary before developing an interest in educational research if he knew the reason insurance rates for school bus drivers under 25 would be triple. He explained that young drivers have substantially more accidents and that the official explanation his company used for charging more for those under 25 was, “lacks wisdom and judgment.”

I then reflected on my own experiences and those of my friends and colleagues in raising children and grandchildren. We constantly comfort each other when our adolescent and young adult offspring experiment with drugs, tobacco and alcohol, engage in high risk activities, abuse their health, and waste money on things they can’t afford. We worry about where they go, with whom they associate, how late they stay out and most of all, what they might be doing.

My own research, conducted over a period of fifty-five years, indicates that of those over 30 who claim they want to teach diverse children and youth in poverty app. one in three pass my Star Teacher Selection Interview. Of those under 25 who say they would like to teach diverse, children and youth in poverty the pass rate is one in ten.

In reflecting on the implications of the events at the car rental, the bus company, in my personal life, and in my research, I asked myself what sorts of jobs should be available to young people. After all, we can’t discriminate in hiring on the basis of age. The answer was obvious and came to me in a flash. Let’s make those lacking the “wisdom and judgment” to drive the school bus the teachers responsible for shaping the mind and character of children and adolescents!

The American Heritage Dictionary defines myth as a “traditional story originating in a preliterate society dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors or heroes that serve as primordial types in a primitive view of the world.” (Morris,ed.1973) At the turn of the 19th century most of the first public school teachers were itinerant males hired into small rural communities. They kept school for a month or two and then moved on. It wasn’t long before the local taxpayers realized they could get farm girls to keep school for as long as 8 months a year at much cheaper cost. The typical school marm was a teenage farm girl, idled by winter, who had the equivalent of a sixth grade education. She could read the bible and do some basic arithmetic. She lived or boarded in the community, meted out the strong discipline expected by parents and kept order in a multi-age cabin school room. By the Civil War the teen age school marm was the picture Americans had imprinted in their minds of the “school teacher” and they began reproducing her counterparts en masse. The first public normal schools providing teacher training opened in the 1830’s to teenage girls who had completed sixth grade. After the Civil War there were over sixteen publicly supported teacher training schools. By WWI every state had half a dozen or more normal schools training teenage girls to keep school all over America’s farm country. These normal schools started as one-year institutions, became two year institutions in the nineteenth century and four year teacher training colleges in the 20th century. (Meyer,1957)

The normal school movement largely bypassed the urban areas, filled as they were with large numbers of Catholics, newer immigrants and others regarded as being something less than real Americans. With the exception of Boston, Baltimore, St. Louis and a very few other cities there were no publicly supported normal schools in urban areas. The growth and transition from normal schools to teachers colleges to four year baccalaureate institutions was essentially a rural phenomenon devoted to the training of teenage farm girls.

This history explains the curious fact that the overwhelming majority of America’s teachers are still prepared in state colleges located in rural areas surrounded by rural schools: e..g. Oswego, New York; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Northern Illinois; Troy, Alabama; etc. Towns that are inaccessible by bus or rail (e.g. River Falls, Wisconsin) have thriving schools of education. Even today, when most new teacher positions are in cities and suburbs, the “urban emphasis” in teacher training programs is something that had to be grafted on to the “regular” programs as a result of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s after the normal schools had been in operation for 130 years.

After President Lincoln established the land grant universities they also took on the mission of teacher training. They began by focusing on the training of secondary teachers in need of more subject matter knowledge. After WWI. The land grant universities expanded their programs downward to include the preparation of elementary school teachers. At the same time the teachers colleges, ever on the alert for higher enrolments and more male students, expanded their programs upward to include secondary education. The current situation is one in which the preponderance of new teachers are still females under 25, trained in land grant universities and in former teacher colleges located outside of urban areas.

After WWII millions of veterans supported by financial aid under the G.I. Bill began attending colleges and universities. This also increased the number of males entering teacher training programs. The influx of males was accelerated again in the early 1950’s when the selective service system (the draft) deferred males from military service if they were enrolled in a college or university. During the Korean War, designated as a “Police Action” but in which over 55,000 soldiers were killed, many young men stayed in college and entered teacher training programs. But these were temporary blips in the history of teacher education. After those eligible for G.I. benefits were graduated the age of students dropped back down to those under 25 and after the Korean War deferments ended, the number of males entering teacher training dropped significantly. Teaching quickly returned to its normal state of being a predominantly female career and teacher training to regarding “traditional students” as those between 20 and 25.

It is important to recognize that no group ever consciously decided on the basis of any theory or research how old the school marm should be as a requirement for admission into teacher training. The focus was and remains on what level of schooling she has completed and not on her own developmental level and maturity. In the beginning she was only required to have a sixth grade education and was therefore frequently less then sixteen years of age. After the first normal schools developed one-year training programs several mandated that candidates must be seventeen but not necessarily high school graduates. It was the lengthening of the teacher training from one to two years and then from two to four years that accounted for the increase in the age of beginning teachers and not any concern with the question of the appropriate age at which individuals should be prepared for teaching. Today, since new teachers must have a four year degree 90 per cent of graduating teachers are between 20 and 25. The term “non-traditional” student has been coined to designate older adults. The age of the “fully qualified beginning teacher” has advanced simply as a function of the age at which most students typically graduate from college. In recent years universities and alternative certification programs have recruited college graduates so that there is now a substantial number of adults over 30 entering teaching; app. 10 percent. Nevertheless, the situation that has remained constant from the 1830’s until the present is that a “fully qualified beginning teacher” is typically perceived to be a female under 25. The deep historical and cultural roots of this myth are impossible to shake off.

Added to the power of tradition are the benefits which universities and colleges of education enjoy by training 90 per cent of new teachers while they are late adolescents and young adults. This is the age when students are most likely to be able to devote themselves to full time study and pay full-time tuition. Schools of education not only support themselves, they are the cash cows that keep the colleges of arts and science stocked with students taking general education courses. The requirement in many institutions that education majors now complete academic majors hasn’t hurt the financial state of the university either. Many colleges and universities are able to keep their arts and science colleges as well as their schools of education thriving by admitting and matriculating large numbers of late adolescents as full-time students. As an aside, there is a certain irony in the constant charge that schools of education don’t teach future teachers enough subject matter when most of the future teacher’s coursework is taken outside of schools of education. In truth, the total university benefits even more than the schools of education by maintaining the myth of the school marm.

The assumption made by all fifty state departments of teacher certification is that the people they certify as teachers are adults who will be teaching children. Without thinking too much about it the public assumes that teachers represent a mature, adult generation, teaching and socializing a younger generation. The fact of the matter is that late adolescents are declared “adults” at age 18 as a legal matter and not because they have reached an adult stage of development. In the nineteenth century a teenage girl might have been married, borne and buried children, engaged in the Indian wars and managed a farm. As a result of her powerful life experiences a late adolescent growing up in the 19th century was likely to be much more mature than a female college graduate of 20-25 in the 21st century.

When we consider the age and maturation level of youth in high school it is clear that college graduates between 20 and 25 do not represent an older, mature generation teaching and socializing a younger generation. Today’s school marm is in the very same stage of human development as the late adolescents she is supposed to instruct and socialize. She sees the world the same way, listens to the same music, dresses in similar styles, shares the same heroes and wants the same things. Today’s late adolescents and young adults are typically in a state of development that rejects and resists adult authority. They are consumed with concerns such as; “Will I find someone to love me? Will I be able to earn a living and support myself? “How do I become independent of my mother without hurting her feelings?

Sociologists and anthropologists who study American society accurately describe the period between ages 15-25 as one of self-absorption and a yearning for independence. (Bellah,1985) I call it the “Age of Me-ness” in which almost every thought and every waking hour is devoted to “What do I want? What do I need? What will make me happy? How can I get what I want? In this stage of development behavior is never independent of, “What will my friends think of me if I do this or that?” Considering the stages of human development in terms of the needs and drives of people during a particular stage of life, it is clear that there is no more self-centered, anti-establishment period of life than late adolescence and young adulthood. If one considers teaching as an occupation which requires making the needs of others paramount in one’s life and in one’s work there can be no worse stage of life to prepare people as teachers than individuals between 20 – 25.

As a college teacher in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee I recently received a notice from the university administration specifying what acts constituted student misconduct in campus classrooms and laboratories. The directive sprecified the student behaviors I should not allow in my classes and provided the telephone numbers of the campus police, health services and fire department should I need assistance. The student behaviors cited included: coming late, leaving early, eating, drinking, reading newspapers, disturbing others, plagiarism, using cells, texting, listening to music, wearing clothing that contained discriminatory slogans, and using laptops for purposes other than those related to the work of the class. This directive was also sent to faculty teaching education courses since, like other college youth, students in teacher preparation programs engage in these same behaviors. Apparently, a remarkable degree of maturation occurs in education students between the time they graduate from the university in June and the time they assume the roles of fully responsible teachers in September. In three or four months they are transformed from perpetrators to enforcers. Is it reasonable to assume that over a summer newly minted teachers transform themselves from impolite, disinterested, disruptive students into the official representatives of adult authority committed to enforcing the rules and regulations of the school systems where they have been hired as teachers? My explanation of why young, beginning teachers find discipline and classroom management so difficult (their number one problem) is that they find it too great a leap to assume the role of rule enforcer and representative of “the system” when they themselves are still mired in the stage of questioning and resisting, even fighting adult authority. If the late adolescent/young adult teacher still perceives herself in the role of a “cool student” she empathizes with students resisting school rules and adult authority. She cannot enforce school rules with the confidence and commitment required to make those rules effective. If the teacher doesn’t really believe school rules make sense and are fair how likely are her students to believe it?

Many high school principals say that they like to hire young teachers because the values and outlook they share with their students enables them to establish rapport and make the curriculum relevant. This naiveté is made evident when the very same principals then complain because so many of their new teachers are not able to establish discipline and elicit respect for school rules. The principals attribute this failure to their teacher training. It is not the case that young teachers do not receive training in discipline and classroom management but rather that they are in a stage of development which prevents them from wanting or being able to represent authority. If the teacher is herself still a late adolescent or young adult predisposed to fight “the system” (i.e. adult authority) she cannot serve as a model encouraging high school students to obey and see the value in school rules. The nature of adolescence is to resist all rules per se.

Because of the nature of the stage of development she is in, the young teacher is caught in a serious internal conflict. Her emotional attachment will be with students resisting school rules. This empathy will exert a far greater influence on her behavior than any cognitive notion that “schools cannot function without order.” This problem of not wanting to be perceived as an authority figure will be exacerbated further by the young teacher’s need to be liked and admired by her students, after all, she like her students in this stage are desperate for the admiration of friends. The dilemma for many young beginning teachers is that they need the approval of friends more than they want students.

46% of all teachers quit in five years or less. In some of the major urban districts more than 50% of beginners quit in less than three years. Beginning teacher attrition continues to increase. (National Commission on Teacher Education and America’s Future, 2003) Recruiting “the best and the brightest” is an ancillary myth that makes the situation even worse. A U.S. Department of Education study found that new teachers who scored the highest on college entrance exams are twice as likely to quit as those with lower scores. (Hanushek,2009) Much of this churn (i.e. the coming and going of beginning teachers) is due to the terrible conditions of work in the schools and to the fact that young women tend to be more mobile as they marry. However, my studies indicate that the primary reason beginning teachers leave is because they cannot handle discipline and because they don’t get the administrative support they need to control the students. The studies of why teachers quit give many reasons for teachers leaving however it is clear that their coming and going –especially in schools serving diverse students in poverty– is not a function of racial differences between teachers and students but is clearly connected to the teacher’s age and level of maturity. (Sabir,2007)

According to The Alliance for Excellence in Education (2005) the school marm myth cost school districts over $5 billion per year in hiring costs. The problems is that these districts keep replacing quitters and failures with new teachers from the same immature population. In some major school districts it is possible to be hired as a teacher without ever having to speak to another human being. Candidates are hired by completing paper work, supplying transcripts, licenses, references and sending in the results of medical exams and criminal checks.

Interviews are with principals for placement into a particular school only after the candidate has been hired as a teacher in the district. The directors of many of the human service departments who hire the teachers in urban school districts across America believe they are too busy to have all the candidates personally interviewed. In place of a personal interview it is common for these districts to use on-line screeners. Candidates take a multiple choice test on-line. (There is no way to prevent a teacher applicant from having a more savvy friend take her telephone or computer interview. I have turned down many such requests.) I have never been able to identify another job, even the most menial, which can be obtained without having to speak to another human being in some sort of interview. Even a part-time job as an assistant chamber maid, or washing cars requires applicants to speak to someone in a face-to-face situation. The notion that individuals can be hired into sensitive positions such as teachers without being personally interviewed leads one to suspect the intelligence of those in the school districts’ human resource departments. If they stopped for a moment to consider why they are too busy hiring people to spend the time needed to interview them they might come up with the possibility that not using in-depth valid in-person interviews of applicants results in them continually hiring the wrong people, namely the ‘fully qualified bright young teacher.”

Over 1,200 schools, colleges and departments of education turn out app. 500,000 youngsters each year as “fully qualified.” To address critics such as myself, many of these institutions also offer boutique programs for 20 or 30 non-traditional, older students. Colleges and universities ought to reverse their emphasis and should focus on adults over 30 as the primary population to prepare for teaching and maintain their boutique programs for the one in ten students under 25 who are sufficiently mature to actually become “fully qualified.”

Clearly this will never happen. There is too much at stake financially and structurally for universities to make changes which will threaten their financial stability. Change is something we in the university pronounce as the responsibility of others. Because we will continue to spew out young teachers and therefore continue the churn of quitter/failures passing through the K-12 schools, we can safely predict that the public schools will continue to deteriorate. Every three years American schools provide enough dropouts to create a city the size of Chicago.(Belfanz & Kletgers,2004)

It is interesting that while it is clearly higher education role and not the lower schools to provide the schools with effective teachers this glaring failure is rarely if ever mentioned; it is the K-12 schools who are attacked for having poor teachers, as if their poor teachers sprung from the head of Zeus. After hiring the 21st century school marms today’s school systems then spend billions trying to upgrade teachers they never should have hired initially. Unfortunately, no teacher development programs or merit pay schemes will transform quitter-failure teachers into effective ones. No school can be better than its teachers. The single most important factor affecting student achievement is teacher effectiveness and teacher effects are cumulative and additive. One bad teacher needs three good teachers in a row to compensate. (Sanders, 1998) The system of schools of education ensconced in universities selling courses to late adolescent and young adult females will never provide a sufficient number of the effective teachers America needs.

The rationale for the certification laws in all 50 states is based on the belief that in order for children to learn they must have teachers who understand the nature of their development. Early childhood teachers are supposed to be expert on the nature of children between five and eight, elementary teachers on the nature of children up through age twelve, middle and secondary school teachers on the nature of pre-adolescents and adolescents. This great commitment to knowing the developmental stage of the learner as a prerequisite for being able to teach them is completely ignored once students enter the university. College faculty, including those in schools of education, know little if anything about the developmental stages of their students or how instruction should be differentiated to best meet the needs of students in various stages of development. In the university, adults aged 18 to retirement age are instructed in the exact same ways and are expected to learn in the exact same ways. The assumption that school districts make when they assume the teachers they hire between the ages of 20 and 25 are in an adult stage of development is merely an echo of the mistake the universities have made in training individuals in this age group.

It is important to recognize that 25% of the newly minted teachers are male and that this translates into foisting as many as 150,000 “fully qualified” young males on children and youth every year. I have not discussed this population since late adolescent and young adult males in this age group are even less mature than females. I assume the reader will readily extrapolate the argument presented here regarding the school marm to males in the 20-25 age group. The legalized insanity of certifying a 22 year old male to shape the character and inspire learning among middle and high school youth boggles the mind; it requires us to simply ignore the nature of the thoughtless, self-centered behavior of males socialized into American society at this stage in their development. These irresponsible, self-centered young men “lacking wisdom and judgment” are somehow transformed into responsible adults capable of serving as role models by virtue of receiving a teaching certificate. The straw man wanted brains and the Wizard of Oz gave him a diploma.

The Nature of Adulthood and Its Relevance to Teachers

Teachers’ knowledge of subject matter is a necessary but not sufficient condition for becoming effective. Adolescents don’t care how much their teachers know until after they have accepted them as their teachers. Students accept and respond positively to teachers if they perceive them as being fair, helpful and concerned with them as individuals. The willingness and ability to encourage students, many of whom are not particularly lovable, is the essence, the very soul of teaching. Secondary students are pushed by hormones and pulled by their friends into attitudes and activities that are not necessarily conducive to learning. Effective teachers, because they are in an adult stage of development, do not allow students’ poor or disappointing behavior to shake their positive views of students as individuals worthy of respect. Ineffective teachers cannot separate students’ misbehavior from their perceptions of students’ worth as persons. Secondary students are not looking for another friend; they already have enough peers. Juxtaposing the demands placed on young teachers who are themselves in need of reassurance and the support of friends, with the needs of students for encouragement from a confident, respected teacher, highlights the irrationality of teachers and students being in the same stage of development.

Lest the reader be misled into believing that this argument is germane to only teaching in urban schools, consider the following interaction I transcribed between a class of all white high school seniors in a high achieving suburban high school and a young white teacher in her first year of teaching. The class is conducting an end-of the year review in preparation for taking the final exam.

Teacher: You guys need to listen. I already know the answers to the final, so I am not doing this for me.

Student 1: Can’t you just tell us the answers. That way we can just go through them.

Teacher: No. That’s not how it works, but what I can do is give you the information that you need to know to figure out the answers for yourself.

Student 2: Ms. Parker, I’m not going to lie. I really don’t care about this final because this is my least favorite class.

Teacher: Well, you are my least favorite student so that does not surprise me.

Class: Whoa!!

Teacher: O.K. calm down. We need to get through this because if we don’t you will not be ready for the final.

Student 3: Isn’t like your job to teach us? If we are not ready it’s not our fault, it’s yours.

Student 4: Yeah. You should let us use our notes for the final.

Teacher: Okay, enough. If you guys don’t want to do anything, then I can’t make you! Those of you who want to study please move to this side of the room. Those of you who don’t care, just leave. Go home. Sit on your couch where it is a lot more comfortable. We don’t want you here anyway.

Student 1: So we can just leave?

Teacher: I’m sorry. I am no longer engaging in your idiotic conversation. I will be working with the students who want to learn.

Student 1: Okay. See you guys later. (Student leaves room.)

This is a teacher with 30 credits of A in education courses including an A in student teaching. I have over four hundred of such dialogues which demonstrate how immature teachers cause and escalate their own problems. Lacking “wisdom and judgment” and being in the same stage of development as their students they quibble with them as peers rather than dialogue with them as a mature adult who is leading and encouraging an adolescent.

In the more than 5,000 observations I have made of teachers, the result of placing young teachers with secondary students is that it is not the teachers who socialize the students but the students who socialize the teachers. The ways in which the classes are conducted, the effort that students put forth and the amount of learning that occurs is controlled by the students, not the teachers. The dynamic by which this occurs is straightforward. Students reward teachers by complying with their directions and punish them by resisting teachers’ instructions. Students’ compliance leads teachers to regard a lesson or activity as successful. On the other hand, students’ resistance leads teachers to discontinue activities that are hard to manage even if they may be more educative. Through this process, young teachers, dependent as they are on students’ compliance, approval and affection have their instructional behavior shaped by their students’ preferences. In effect, the ways in which young beginning teachers teach are the ways their students want to be taught; teachers who resist having their behavior shaped by students become mired in classroom management issues and are driven out.

The theoretic basis for recognizing the inappropriateness of making late adolescents and young adults teachers has been known for some time from a variety of sources. Adults who attain a more mature level of development will have a stronger and more reasonable sense of who they are and are more self-accepting. Greater maturity increases the likelihood that individuals can become more confident, more inner-directed and more motivated by intrinsic rewards. This does not mean that all adults are capable of becoming teachers. Only one in three of those of aged thirty and above who say they would like to teach can pass my Star Teacher Selection Interview. Teaching is a moral craft. Only adults who have reached the most mature levels of their own development have the potential for focusing on their students rather than on themselves, encouraging learning and providing the skills for succeeding in the world of work. Kohlberg’s theoretic formulation of moral development is framed in terms of what concerns people have as they pass through six stages of development:

Level I. concern about obedience

Level II. concern with satisfying needs and wants

Level III. concern with conformity

Level IV. concern with preserving society

Level V. concern with the social contract, i.e. “What is right beyond legal absolutes?”

Level VI. concern with universal, ethical principles. (Kohlberg,1976)

According to Kohlberg, many attain Level IV. by age 25 and begin to focus on reasoning in accordance with basic democratic principles but only ten percent of those in their twenties ever reach levels V. and VI. Based on his experience as a college teacher and a psychologist, Sprinthall believes that while students are capable of thinking on Levels V. and VI. they rarely do so. (Sprinthall,1981) Erikson contends that only mature adults overcome the stage of “self absorption.” His eight stages of human development are: trust vs. mistrust (first year); autonomy vs. doubt (2nd and 3rd years); initiative vs. guilt(4th and 5th years); industry vs. inferiority (ages 6-11); identity vs. role confusion( ages 12-18); intimacy vs. isolation(ages 18-25); generativity vs. self-absorption (middle age); and integrity vs. despair (old age.) “Generativity” refers to concerns about the next generation either through parenting or in general. In Erikson’s formulation this means an individual must resolve the issue of intimacy vs. isolation before reaching the level of concern for children. (Erikson,1963) A fundamental assumption of all developmental theories is that an individual must pass through all the preceding stages in sequence and that each stage is prerequisite for the next. Using Erikson’s model Marcia studied college youth and found that only 22 per cent developed identity, which Erikson contends should occur between ages 12 and 18. Marcia described the other 78 percent in states of “identity moratorium, foreclosure or diffusion.” She defined and sequenced these states in the following manner: “moratorium” is a search for oneself prior to making a life commitment(28 percent); “foreclosure refers to accepting whatever authority figures prescribe(26 percent); and “diffusion” refers to a stage in which there is no commitment to any person, philosophy or set of beliefs, i.e. living for the moment and not delaying gratification. (Marcia,1976) A subsequent study placed 24 percent in this stage. (Waterman,1986) If those doing follow-up studies on Erikson’s model are right then the number of college youth starting to thinking about people other than themselves is about 22 percent.

The classical developmental model of cognition is Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. (Inhelder` & Piaget, 1958) In this model it is clear that an individual should reach at least the fourth stage of development before teaching others. This stage describes formal operations and refers to the following abilities: a) abstract thinking, the ability to think about possibilities and not be constrained by concrete reality; b) propositional thinking, the ability to think about the relationship among ideas, concepts, and propositions; c) combinatorial thinking, the ability to generate all combinations of ideas as well as cognitive operations; d) hypothetical-deductive thinking, the ability to think scientifically about the definition and control of variables, and about the generation, testing and revision of hypotheses; e) the ability to think ahead, the solution of problems by defining problems, planning, selecting strategies and revising; f) the ability of metacognition, including the thinking about cognitive processes, memory, learning and language; and g) the ability to be self-reflective about cognitive processes, identity existence, morality and personal relationships.(Keating,1980) It should be obvious that those who would teach others would be at this level of cognitive development, however, in my search of the research and theoretic literature of college teaching I have found no evidence anywhere that these are typical behaviors of undergraduates. When I ask college teachers about the prevalence of these attributes among the undergraduates they teach their typical response is laughter. If college youth have not attained higher levels of thinking in four or more years at the university how likely is it that they will they develop them in the summer before taking their first teaching position? In studying the content of college students’ reasoning some researchers have followed them through four years of college.(Perry,1981)

In the early stages students are moral and intellectual absolutists: there are correct solutions for every problem and authorities are assumed to know what these are. In the next stage students are relativistic, one opinion is as good or as useless as another. This seems to be the stage of teacher education students at the time of graduation. In the final stage of this model, not typical of undergraduates, individuals become committed to a search for and an expression of their own identity.

Other models of adolescent and adult development focus on the development of the individual’s beliefs and assumptions regarding the nature of knowledge itself.(Kitchener, 1986) Beginning with direct experience as the support for an absolutist view, Kitchener moves through stages of weighing conflicting perceptions, (relativism) and concludes with a stage in which a mature view of reality combines personal experience with expert opinion, research and multiple ways of knowing. It is indeed ironic that young beginning teachers are still in a late adolescent stage of focusing on their own personal experiences as the most valuable mode of learning but rarely extend this ideological commitment to the way they try to teach children and youth. It is the hallmark of immaturity that young adults worship their own personal experiences as the ultimate way of knowing but are driven by their need for control to focus on only vicarious learning (i.e. texts and seatwork)as the way they teach others. Allowing experiments and hands-on learning all make discipline and class control more difficult.

I believe that most teacher educators would agree with my contentions regarding their preservice students’ immaturities and find teaching them a constant battle to get them to think, reflect and base their actions on a knowledge base rather than on personal preferences and untested beliefs. While they are savvy enough to not admit this publicly, most teacher educators are well aware of the adolescent, even childlike stage in which many of those they certify still find themselves. We have known for a long time that as graduation and certification approaches preservice students’ concerns narrow significantly until they can think of nothing but discipline and classroom management. (Roy,1974) “Will I be able to control the class?” becomes such an all- consuming, overwhelming fear that there is little thinking at any level. In Kohlberg’s formulation this is a moral stage that precedes even late adolescence and characterizes the need for power and control that is characteristic of early adolescence. Finally, the most complete summary of the research and developmental theory dealing with young adults 18-25 leads to the inescapable conclusion that this is clearly the wrong stage of development in which to locate teacher training. (Pintrich, 1990) I find it sad but revealing that I have never encountered a teacher educator who has ever referred to, cited, or even read this definitive summary of young adult development.

Some Final Notes

What I have argued may very well support the contention that all university-level education is wasted on most people before the age of 25 but such an analysis is beyond the scope of this paper. The decade after WWII is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Higher Education” because the millions of war veterans who entered universities under the GI Bill were older and more mature as a result of their life experiences. University faculty found them much more amenable to higher levels of thinking. Similarly, the period from 1963-1973 when the National Teacher Corps attracted 100,000 more mature college graduates into teaching, was considered by many to have been a golden age for teacher education.

This analysis has focused on the preparation of young adults who become secondary teachers because it is undeniable that this is peer teaching rather than an older generation teaching and socializing a younger one. I believe, however, that the case for not using young adults as beginning teachers of elementary age children is equally strong but would require a more elaborate analysis than space here permits.

Essentially, the same degree of cognition and emotional development is necessary for teaching at every level and I am just as concerned with immature young adults teaching four year olds as I am with them trying to teach geometry to adolescents.

Nowhere have I taken the position that all experienced teachers are good simply because they have aged and not quit. Many should be removed. It is important to recognize that many people simply grow older and never attain the levels of maturity and development described by any of the theorists. Many experienced teachers are not learners and therefore do not grow. As a result they have do not have 30 years of experience; they have one year of experience thirty times. My contention is that selecting, preparing and hiring individuals over 30 will be three times more effective than maintaining the myth of the “fully qualified young teacher” who will never take a teaching job or who is likely to be a failure/quitter teacher if she does. This analysis is not an advocacy for preventing all individuals younger than 25 from becoming teachers but for being more selective. If hiring officials used validated forms of interviewing I would estimate that as many as 50,000 young teachers under 25 could be identified each year who have reached the level of maturity needed for teaching and who could meet the demands of functioning as teachers of record in even the most challenging situations. While this is only one in ten of the teacher education graduates it represents a sizable population who are needed and who should not be overlooked. It should also be noted that many of the very same individuals who are not sufficiently mature to be teaching before age 25 may be highly effective teachers if they enter the profession in their 30’s or later.

In the final analysis whether or not an individual comes down on the side of wanting teachers to be more mature or younger depends on how complex he perceives the teacher’s job to be. “We need to specify which kinds of behaviors can be predicted by developmental stage and which are irrelevant. If, for example, we wanted persons to perform some kinds of mindless, jejune task, their level of cognitive stage would probably demonstrate little correlation to successful performance. On the other hand, if the task required higher-order abilities such as understanding and applying abstract concepts in a humane mode, then indeed the level of psychological maturity and the level of cognitive development may be important predictors. And it probably comes as no great surprise to say that such outcomes are supported by multiple research studies. The most general study was done by Douglas Heath (1977) in his studies of adult success in four countries. He used a multiple index of success and quality of life, and he used over 200 predictors. He found that there were four general developmental characteristics which were highly relevant to success: a) symbolization of experience, b) allocentrism i.e. empathy, c) autonomy, and d) a commitment to democratic values. The common or standardized predictors such as academic grade point average and scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test were meaningless with one exception: in his American sample there was an inverse correlation between success in adulthood and SAT score.” (Thies-Sprinthall & Sprinthall, 1987)

I have four specific recommendations. University based teacher education needs to continue to expand the trend of making its programs more available to older adults. In addition to the traditional criteria, entry into university based programs of teacher preparation need to include validated interviews of candidates’ values and predispositions to ascertain their level of development. School districts need to use validated interviewing instruments to determine the likelihood that the young adults they hire will be effective and remain in teaching for five or more years. A career ladder needs to be developed for young newly certified teachers who have not yet reached the level of mature adulthood so that they may be hired as paraprofessionals and work toward becoming regular teachers after they have attained an appropriate level of development.

Given the unlikelihood that these changes will be made it is not difficult to predict that the quality of schools will continue to deteriorate. As large numbers of immature quitter/failure teachers continue to pass through the profession they will waste their own time and money, the precious school years of their students’ and broaden the educational wasteland. The myth of the school marm is alive and well. Convictions can be greater enemies of the truth than outright lies.


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