Learning From High-Performing Countries

Learn from countries with better education systems

This post is part of a series on In Praise of American Educators (And How They Can Become Even Better).

This title of Chapter 4 in Rick DuFour’s In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better caught my attention. It seems like such a basic thing to do – if things are bad, look to see who is doing it right. Even if things are not bad, isn’t that the essence of school improvement? We look at other school systems to see what they are doing, we look at other schools to see what they are doing and even in our own PLC’s, we look at other teachers to see what they are doing. So why not take some ideas from other countries?

The learning that I took away from my experiences in Canada and the US is in teacher preparation programs. When my friends graduated from University of Toronto, some of them continued with their education by going to medical school, law school or teacher’s college. Yes teacher’s college is like any post university program where you have to apply to get in once you have completed your undergraduate degree (B.A or B.Sc) – and it is incredibly competitive. You cannot teach until you receive your teaching license, and you cannot get your teaching license until you have your education degree (B.Ed. Degree), and you cannot get your education degree until you have an undergraduate degree. Quite the process isn’t it?!

When I graduated from University of Toronto with my B.A. degree back in the early 90’s, I wasn’t thinking about getting into teaching. But after 3 years of working in the counseling field, I realized I wanted to be a teacher. The only way to become a teacher was for me to resign from my counseling job and apply to teacher’s college. There was no alternative pathway – going back to university for my B.Ed degree was the only way to become a teacher, so I made that sacrifice thanks to my very supportive parents!

After becoming an assistant principal in the United States, I saw it was different. It took me a while to understand all the different pathways and all the different alternative ways someone could become a teacher. At first, I thought this was great. What a great way to encourage more people to enter the teaching profession. And, I saw some great people become fantastic teachers through these alternative programs. However, I also saw the opposite.

After experiencing both ways of getting into teaching, I would argue that there are pros and cons to both systems. But when you look at the countries that are producing results in education, they seem to have comprehensive teacher preparation programs. And many of these programs have to be completed successfully prior to entering the field. We don’t let doctors begin their practice while they are still in medical school, so why do we let teachers begin teaching while they are still taking classes? Why don’t we consider investing in better teacher preparation programs so our teachers can be better supported and set up for success? These seem to be some of the practices in those high performing countries – so why not adapt their practices if they are working?

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