While all teachers should be expert in their chosen subjects, the strain on student teachers is immense. Both student teachers and colleagues regularly complain that lecturers teach only to the BA students and do not differentiate for student teachers. This pressure has led to a situation in Bavarian universities whereby training in pedagogy is minimal because student teachers are overburdened with the course content of their teaching subjects.
The practical result of this is an absurd situation where student teachers enter the classroom for the first time with an expert store of knowledge about their subjects, of which they will ever need only a fraction, yet practically no idea how to teach. I recently spoke to a trainee primary school teacher. She informed me that she was under immense pressure as she was giving a presentation later that day. One of her specialist subjects was German. As she studied German with BA students, she was expected to cover the same content as the rest. In this case, the subject of her presentation and the cause of her stress was Homo Faber by Max Frisch. Among the key themes addressed in Homo Faber are incest, guilt, denial of your personal past, fear of death and suicide. What use is this to a student teacher about to step into the classroom and teach six year-olds? It is especially absurd when the same student had never heard of John Dewey, Abraham Maslow or local educational pioneer, Kurt Hahn.
Aside entirely from acquiring a basic knowledge of the theoretical foundations of their chosen discipline, these students have minimal practical teaching skills upon entering the classroom. And of course it is not possible for them to acquire such skills in large lecture halls of 300 and more students. Instead, we need to differentiate instruction for Pedagogy candidates. As obvious as it may sound, Pedagogy must be the focus of their studies. Besides hammering out a realistic and practical work-load in their chosen subjects, pedagogical training should take place in small, seminar-sized groups with a maximum of 30 students (what student teachers themselves will face in the workplace). Lecture halls may be beneficial for the accumulation of knowledge but they are of almost no use in modelling how to be an effective classroom teacher. Indeed, it is now all too common to see students fiddle with mobile devices while a lecturer is droning on at the front of the room as they know he will post the slides online anyway. Others, knowing that the slides are posted, will not even bother to come in the first place. And why would they?
In small groups, pedagogical training should be focused on having students produce practical artefacts that can be transferred immediately into the classroom for experimentation on their practicum. Project-Based Learning (#PBL) is the ideal teaching methodology in these classrooms as it allows student teachers to engage in authentic problem-solving, experimentation with various practical approaches to teaching as well as introducing them to various #EdTech solutions that will help them to foster 21st century skills in their students.
Last January I taught a weekend seminar on Evidence-Based Teaching (EBT) to both undergraduate and MA students of pedagogy. It would have been perfectly acceptable, respectable even, for me to sit at the front of the room and talk at the students about John Hattie, Robert Marzano, Size Effects and so on, until students began fiddling with their phones. Instead I employed a PBL approach. In advance of the seminar, I compiled a YouTube playlist of key ideas in EBT (see here) and asked students to engage with it. I also supplied them with an Essential Question for our seminar and a project guideline. At the start of our seminar, I explained to students that in 48 hours it was expected that they, in groups, would create and upload to YouTube a video that explained one teaching method that has been proven to work in the classroom and provide a practical means of implementation for practising teachers. Knowing that they had a deadline and the responsibility of providing instruction to serving teachers, students were highly motivated. The project was a success and received positive feedback from John Hattie and Geoff Petty among other experts in the field. Not only did students acquire the knowledge essential to complete the task, but given the freedom to research and present on their own topics, they produced highly imaginative and original pieces of work. None of this is possible in large lecture theatres.