The other night my wife and I came home from a date, and our babysitter was up working on an assignment for school. She's an undergrad studying to be a teacher. Next year, she starts her student teaching.
As she chatted with my wife about how the night had gone, I got distracted by the pile of books she had on the table. One of them was David McClelland's The Achieving Society, this gnarly looking theory book from the 1970s. The table of contents was fascinating — “The Achieving Motive: How It Is Measured and It's Economic Effects” — and so I started falling down the rabbit hole.
“What are you working on?” I asked.
“I've got to do research and decide what my theories of learning and motivation are. It's due Thursday.”
Here's what blows me away about assignments like this in undergrad teacher ed courses:
1) I didn't start getting serious about theories of learning and motivation until I was about ten years into my career, and even then it was only because I started needing ways to talk and think about the deeper questions I was asking about my classroom and classrooms around the world. Prior to this, I had zero inclination toward theories or philosophies. Before a swimmer thinks deeply about her stroke, she must thoroughly learn how not to drown.
2) Our babysitter is bright, passionate, and kind. She's exactly the kind of person I want teaching in every classroom possible. But if she doesn't get practical, competency-oriented help with classroom management and sustainable lesson planning and curriculum design,* she's at risk of becoming another teacher attrition statistic.
My point is just that it's probably not helpful for our babysitter to have to figure out her theories of learning and motivation by Thursday.
I'm thirteen years in, and I'm still figuring out mine.
*Wise schools will remediate for these practical skills with on-the-job help. This looks like explicit instruction in the work that matters most and then deliberate practice around that instruction (e.g., “Here is how to hold your body authoritatively when giving instructions. Now you try.”).