What Chinese Teachers Can Show Us About Teacher Education

Teresa Leavitt and a colleague examined the effects of teacher education programs on working teachers in China.

 

While teaching English in China, Teresa Leavitt and a colleague conducted a research study examining the effects of teacher education programs on working teachers. Being in China offered the researchers a valuable opportunity to study more closely an education system with the potential to offer insight into improving our own. “In comparative studies, China’s education achievements are always near the top. Their students score really well on everything,” says Leavitt. “So what are they doing in their teacher education programs? What are the teachers doing in their classrooms to help their students succeed?”

Researchers selected three American and four Chinese teachers, whom they interviewed and worked with extensively in school settings in order to assess how their teacher education programs had impacted their practices and beliefs as teachers. Leavitt found that teacher education programs did have a significant effect on their graduates’ practices and beliefs.

Teacher education programs are particularly important because many students come to teacher training having been exposed to less effective teaching practices throughout their lives. Researchers in the field are trying to understand to what extent these ingrained beliefs are affecting teaching practices, and which teaching methods are most successful in creating the most effective teachers.

"What these teachers learned in their teacher education programs directly impacted their beliefs, practices, and classroom teaching. We need to make sure our teacher education programs have the right focus and balance, and that we are helping student teachers understand the most effective methods and pedagogy for the subjects they’ll be teaching in the future."

This research showed the curriculum that teachers-in-training were exposed to as students directly influenced their teaching practices. Consequently even the four Chinese teachers differed in their teaching approaches. Two had been raised on lecture-style teaching and consequently tended to be more traditional and kept in line with the teaching practices familiar to them from their upbringing. The other two Chinese teachers had been exposed to more constructivist teaching and therefore adhered less to traditional teaching, implementing newer practices in their own classrooms.

The researchers also concluded that teacher education curriculum had less of an effect as teacher education strategies did on students’ classroom teaching later on. American and Chinese teachers exposed to and trained in diverse teaching methods held similar beliefs regardless of the different curriculum. Consequently there were differences among the American group of teachers as well as among the Chinese group.

These findings have significant implications. Leavitt concludes, “What these teachers learned in their teacher education programs directly impacted their beliefs, practices, and classroom teaching.” Consequently, administrators and instructors face the challenge to adapt their teaching strategies to fit the changing needs of students and educators. “We need to make sure our teacher education programs have the right focus and balance, and that we are helping student teachers understand the most effective methods and pedagogy for the subjects they’ll be teaching in the future.”

22 August 2011