The Education of the Teacher

by Larry P. Arnn, President
Hillsdale College

Over the last several years, parents have taken more interest in what their children are learning at school. What they have found is troubling. Instead of classes of substance, they find lectures on highly-charged subjects like racism and sexuality—subjects that should be broached, not by teachers, but by the child’s own parents.

This is not necessarily the fault of the teachers. Rather, it is the fault of the education programs that train them to do so. 
If you look at the mission statement of almost any education program today, you will find significantly more emphasis on social outcomes than on knowledge. Such programs are focused more on giving teachers ideological and political talking points than mastery over the subjects they will be responsible for teaching. It’s no wonder so many teachers feel unprepared for the classroom when they graduate.
Here at Hillsdale, education is a minor field of study. Education students are expected to pursue a major in the subject they love most and wish to share with others, whatever it may be—biology, mathematics, history, literature, or Spanish, to name only a few. They take dozens of courses in their major and write even more papers and exams. 
Education minors will take also courses in the theory and practice of education, but with the understanding that the art of teaching ought always to be in the service, not of itself, but of what is taught and to whomever it is taught.
This means a better education for the students. Students thrive in classrooms that encourage wonder for what is taught. Teachers who love and master those subjects exude that wonder, and it is infectious. The students will come to love the complexity and detail of the world around them and their place in it. The opening line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics tells us that the human being “stretches himself out to know.” It is this stretching that the best teacher will cultivate in his students—the sense of wonder that will drive them to learn and know for the whole of their lives.  
The reason for privileging content over methods in teacher education is practical, as well. The best way to learn the art of teaching is to teach—spending time in the classroom day in and day out. Mastering an area of study, however, takes years of dedicated attention and rigor. A teacher is going to find it difficult to master American history, Shakespeare, or microbiology—what they should have learned in their undergraduate education—while teaching 40 or more hours each week and grading or coaching for many more.
That does not mean that brand new teachers should be left to themselves to figure out how to manage students. The best schools—Hillsdale charter schools included—foster a strong culture of friendship among senior and junior faculty members. More experienced teachers should coach the less experienced, and new teachers should apply what they learn as they learn it. 
Pedagogy and classroom management are necessary, but they are always in service of a higher thing. That higher thing—cultivating within students the wonder and love of learning—ought always to come first. That, then, must also be the end of the education of the teacher when they themselves are students.

For more information about Hillsdale College’s Office of K-12 Education, click here.
To listen to the Hillsdale College Classical Education Podcast, click here.