eePRO

The hub for environmental education professional development

Teacher Education and EE - Like the Titanic, this pairing is sinking.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if ALL teachers-to-be had instruction in the use of EE and the out-of-doors in their higher education? Don't wonder too much, because fewer and fewer teacher education programs are supporting environmental education.

In many cases EE is sinking in the mire of budget cuts and misunderstanding about the value of environmental education to produce better qualified teachers. If we believe that student teaching prepares young people for the profession, if methods classes prepare them to teach subjects in the classroom, then how can we expect teachers to be prepared to use the outdoors effectively without nature experiences? The research supports the value of nature and the out-doors for students, but we have no advocates for EE in higher education.

As many states are winnowing down their teacher education programs to bare bones, as technology has become one of the primary means of educating students in higher education, in spite of the fact they already spend an inordinate amount of time behind computers, games and other forms of technology, it appears environmental education is like the arts, appreciated but not valued enough to be supported. As a result, we are creating techno teachers, savvy technologically speaking, but that will become less healthy, less able to stay well both physically and emotionally, and less able to meet the needs of children. Basically higher education is creating teachers that are more seat bound, more likely to encourage seat bound education, making both the teacher and the students more challenged and more likely to be sedentary. As one professor said: " I cannot give them experiences in (blank), I do not have the time. So I am telling them about it." And that is in an area highly supported, because it is considered "BASIC." Comforting isn't it, experiential education move over to telling those teachers what to do. I would bet they will not be able to find a lifeboat of quality, hands-on education.

One state, once the model of higher education and environmental education, was slowly sinking into the ocean of indifference, lack of support, and misunderstanding about what it is, what it can do, and why it can do things better. What was once a ship listing to port, is now one with a huge gash in the side that has taken it into the great abyss. It was the iceberg of higher education that looked like a small problem. But under the water, what could not be seen, did most of the damage. The outcome has been the demise of many programs and certainly EE.

Who will teach future teachers about EE? It appears as though the universities will try to stuff mattresses in those gaping holes created by the iceberg of financial malaise and administrative ignorance or worse. Adjuncts or those with little training, they will be brought to bale out the ship with one liter buckets. That will do the job.

Are there enough life boats to save some EE programs? There appears to not be enough life lines or life boats and the water is cold. We may not have enough programs to survive. The waves too are making it rough - after all there are nothing but icecaps in that water. We have seen those icy stares from administrators looking to cut programs.

What happened to the concept that all teachers should experience EE, before they become teachers? What happened to EE programs at the graduate level to help teachers learn about EE and how to use it as an "integrating context? I guess the idea of having all teachers-to-be prepared to teach EE in their classroom was a dream.

Let us return to reading, writing and arithmetic. Also, forget the arts too. Teacher Education is bound to travel on a small skiff, called "Just the Basics." And yes...we need testing, testing, testing too. Those costs help us assess outcomes, no costs are too great for that.

phew. I share your passion and understand your frustration. I truly hope the inclusion of EE in the ESSA will help turn this tide. There is hope in opportunities for continuing education for teachers too. I have participated in and taught a number of CE classes that are wonderful at helping teach teachers the value and benefit of things like EE, Place-based learning, outdoor education and the like. If the Universities won't do it, we'll have to do it grass roots style.

I agree, sadly. As an associate professor at a leading regional university, i guided a core group of students, alumni, faculty, and community members to create a program that would integrate an EE endorsement into the undergraduate teacher education programs. The whole teacher education program was deleted as advocates of charter schools hired uncertified teachers instead of highly qualified and certified teachers. It is so difficult to convince universities and colleges to adopt EE endorsement programs; the work is piecemeal and at very poor, adjunct pay. The teachers who take these courses are amazed at the richness of what they learn and the resources that are available. However, convincing their districts to honor EE integration is not encouraging.

I have had teachers withdraw from a workshop series of sessions including Project Learning Tree, Project Wild, etc., because powers-that-be would not give approval for continuing education credit. I'm offering training in GLOBE this year, which is actually mentioned in our state standards (as were PLT and WILD), and am wondering who will be able to attend for credit. So it's not just the higher ed institutions. It is also school districts themselves that are missing the boat.

We can hope can we? Sabrina, the more I hear the direction of EE at universities the more I pause and wonder will we have to go back to the stone age and reinvent what we did. Universities are understaffed, underfunded, and at some institutions some foreign language and other majors are being eliminated. You know what that means to EE? It means we are on the cusp of being eliminated too. No matter what the research says about EE and the value it has to improve education of students, no matter what the research says about how EE helps the intellectual, emotional and physical of children. It is what I have always thought, universities that want to do something find the means or circumvent the rules to make things happen. On the other hand, when they do not want something, they find a way to eliminate it. KY, one of the states with a network of Centers for EE is disintegrating before our eyes. Murray State's Center is gone, the director at Eastern KY University's positions was eliminated, and as time goes on, it is more uncertain that KY will be able to hold together Centers for EE. The writing is on the wall because EE is not as valued. It is also a matter of Centers for EE are person specific. The persons leading them raise the money, which is critical because universities underfund them, and have the leadership and connections to make things happen. When they leave, there is a void, usually not filled. In my situation the person who took over the leadership was non-tenured, leading a Center that was bringing in about $400,000 a year in grants and contracts. As I pointed out to the powers to be, it was not wise to hire a non-tenured faculty to take over the burdens of a Center.

That person left because of the load and how it was impacting his tenure. If we are to go back to grass roots for EE once again, with the stresses on school systems and teachers with testing and PD pre-prescribed, I wonder whether it will be as easy as it once was. Not saying it was simple in the beginning, but today administrators believe that seat-bound education is more valuable than going outside or having EE. It is a steep climb.

I hope I am wrong, but the future for EE seems ominous.

Something happened to me recently that made me wonder... I had a call from a colleague and a regional education cooperative, a collection of 15-20 school systems. They noted there was really no training that integrates subjects, just nuts and bolts kinds of training for teachers - usually selected by an administrator who often does not have the background in curriculum leadership. They also said, no one in higher ed in our region was providing training for teachers. This is probably because the EE Center at the university was disbanded, then given to people who know nothing about teacher education. It is hard to sell workshops for teachers that do not know Core Content, national standards in math, science, etc. So they asked me to work with a person who is full of energy and connects well with teachers to offer some curriculum workshops in EE. They said to me...there is such a need for this and new teachers have not had this opportunity. I mention this because I have been fretful about the state of EE in higher education. So with a void, another organization has stepped in to fill it. Would you not anticipate...as the university thought about it...they wanted to start things going again...but with people who know nothing about teacher education and core content...it makes it a rather dicey proposition. If you have something that does not connect to what teachers must teach, are tested upon, then there is little one can do to drum up interest in any workshop or training. Educators want connections to what they do and how they may do it better....and can you blame them?