The apprenticeship model of teaching

I posted out a suggestion on Twitter which I want to write about in more detail. The basic idea is, instead of the current model of teacher education that we use now, we should look at an apprenticeship model. Each new teacher would do a year of training in their university with a small amount of classroom observation time, and then in the following year they would apprentice with an experienced teacher in their classroom for at least a year, and then with a different experienced teacher for a following year.

In their two years as an apprentice teacher they would learn how to teach. They would still attend some classes outside of teaching so they could formalize their learning but they would have an invaluable experience learning how to teach from someone who knows the trade. The classroom of students would benefit from the attention of two teachers, one of whom has been recently trained in the most current pedagogy, and other of whom would have years of experience behind them. No classroom would end up with a rookie teacher on their own and suffer the consequences of trying to learn from someone who is struggling to learn how to teach. 

I would also include some assistant teachers in this program to ensure that the busy bureaucratic work of teaching isn’t handed off to the apprentice teacher too often. It would be important for them to have the time to learn how to teach properly, rather than handle the paperwork of the classroom. 

A further benefit of this system would be that every classroom with an apprentice teacher also has someone on staff who can act as a substitute teacher. These substitute teachers would have the benefit of knowing the students, the curriculum and the learning of the students would never have to miss a beat. There would be no more "substitute’s in, let’s party!" days for the students.

You would have to start out such a program small and with a few master teachers as the initial guides. The apprentices would apply for the program with the understanding that their first couple of years of teaching would be paid less. In British Columbia, many teachers have to work for years as substitute teachers without gaining any substantive experience as a full time classroom teacher. Here in BC, they would welcome this change as it would be a marked improvement to the current system.

A definite drawback of this system is that it would likely cost more than the current system although there would be some cost-savings with the reduction of the number of substitute teachers required.  You might be able to regain some of the cost savings back if you recognized that a slightly larger class size could be managed with two (or possibly three) adults in the room since the workload for each teacher would generally be less than if they had their own full-size classroom.

Another way this would offset the cost of the program is that you would spend less time training new teachers since the attrition rate for teaching would be likely be lower. Many teachers who leave the profession cite a lack of support as their reason for quitting teaching. Teachers in the apprenticeship model of learning how to teach would have much more support and more immediate access to resources than our current model.

Does anyone know if this model exists anywhere yet? I’d love to hear from people who have actually spent significant time apprenticing to be a teacher.

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2 Comments

  • Hi, just stumbled across this and it sounds like great idea. I would certainly love to sign up for something like this! I like your analysis about slightly larger classes and the connection to substitute teaching. It does internalize the cost though — instead of new teachers forking over tuition money only to quit after 1-2 years, the school district would have to ante up. I don’t know how to resolve this, but I hope you get some traction on this idea.

  • Alaska Deb wrote:

    I could not agree more and have been advocating this for years. It is crazy that most university teaching programs are not 5-yr (min) Master programs and your final semester is done student teaching. That is not a good model.

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