NeverBore starts with teacher training

If you had one full day to spend with brand new pre-service teachers just starting their masters’ program, what would you do? How would you prepare them for the challenges ahead? 

Some teachers I know — frustrated by the low status, low pay and increasing pressure for standardized test performance — would tell them “get out,” “don’t do it,” “turn back now!”

Others might bestow survival tips, like how to manage parent complaints, work technology or work around bureaucracies.

For me, the most important goal was to get new teachers to think about active learning strategies. I think if new teachers can engage students with simulations, discussions and problem-based learning, for example, they will have fewer discipline problems or complaints, and their students will perform better.

Despite our best efforts, most teachers teach the way they were taught, and even those who learn different strategies in college often revert to what’s familiar when they’re in their first school, with colleagues who do what they’ve always done.

That’s why so many teachers lecture so much of the time, even though we know it’s not effective.

Thanks to the Minnesota Council for Economic Education, I had the opportunity to spend all day today with a group of 23 preservice teachers in their second week of the program.

I didn’t get to choose anything I wanted to do. The purpose for the workshop, to help social studies teachers feel better prepared to teach economics, was set for me. Most social studies teachers don’t really want to teach economics, and it’s the most-failed subject on the licensure exams. So we’re trying to change that.

Last year was the first time we tried this, and we focused a lot on teaching economic content, which was fairly successful, but on surveys many participants indicated they already knew supply and demand.

This time I wanted to broaden the focus of the workshop, to get the prospective new teachers thinking about student engagement and, specifically, how to engage students in learning economics. And I wanted to make sure they weren’t bored.

It was exciting for me, and a little scary, because I got to test out a format that I hope will be the model for NeverBore workshops in the future – immersing teachers in active-learning strategies like a simulation and a debate, rather than just talking about them.

I’ll have to wait until Wednesday to read the participants’ post-survey results, but it seemed like a great day to me. At the start, most of the teachers admitted they were not excited about teaching econ, and they didn’t have positive memories of learning it.

But during the day, as we played Econoland, worked out how to calculate unemployment, simulated a banking system, argued over free trade and competed in the stock market, they were smiling, laughing, and highly engaged in the content. They asked great questions, offered suggestions for improving the lessons, and seemed a lot more interested in econ by the end of the day.

Hopefully this one-day effort will make at least a small difference in how these new teachers will teach, if they are ever assigned to an economics classroom (or even if they are not).

The best way to get teachers to use active-learning strategies is training by immersion. If they enjoyed today as much as I did, I think it was a success.