Teacher training emphasizes practical classroom skills rather than abstract knowledge.
Teacher training emphasizes practical classroom skills rather than abstract knowledge.

Although people outside the education field may use teacher education and teacher training interchangeably, education theorists distinguish the terms clearly. In the context of teacher preparation, training corresponds to learning real-life classroom skills while education refers to more abstract knowledge about modes of learning and instruction. When referring to the process of preparing future teachers, education specialists find "teacher education" more consistent with the idea of developing versatile, reflective practitioners with a wealth of professional knowledge.

Training

In education theory, training refers to acquisition of concrete skills for meeting specific goals in a real-life, applied situation. This often includes "closed skills," like typing or juggling, that have absolute ceiling on mastery or where the only way to improve the skill is to do it faster or while multi-tasking. For teachers, training might include how to maintain a grade book or calculate reading fluency scores.

Education

In contrast, education focuses on more abstract knowledge and open-ended concepts, like the ability to design factory equipment or write poetry. Open skills rely on abstract understanding and have no absolute ceiling on performance. Examples from teaching include how to design an original lesson plan or promote critical thinking.

This distinction is subtle since abstract concepts can empower students to meet real-life goals, similar to training. Furthermore, training in concrete skills can foster understanding of an underlying concept, similar to education. Some theorists distinguish education from training based on intention. Education aims to improve the mind while training aims to improve performance. In many cases, education and training go hand in hand.

In-Service Training

A useful example comes from in-service "training," which can be education, training or, more commonly, a combination. The term "in-service" means that working teachers receive the instruction, as opposed to pre-service student teachers.

In-service training often includes training, such as step-by-step instructions for using a school's new computer system or administering a new student test. However, in-service might also address new research findings, the principles behind new education laws or other abstract concepts. In professions such as medicine or law, this is known as "continuing professional education."

Pre-Service Coursework

Many aspects of teacher education -- as opposed to training -- occur in an academic setting, including courses on education theory, child development, and curriculum development. However, this is not an absolute distinction since most programs also require practical courses like classroom management, and theory courses generally also require field work, such as classroom observations and teaching practice.

Student Teaching

After the required coursework, pre-service teachers traditionally complete student teaching or clinical teaching, working alongside a certified teacher in a classroom. The student teacher gradually progresses from assisting the certified teacher, to sharing instructional duties, to taking over as the lead instructor.

This experience provides training in concrete skills like speaking and being heard in a busy classroom, managing student behavior issues, and organizing paperwork. However, education also occurs as the certified teacher helps the student teacher put conceptual knowledge into practice in the classroom. Many programs also require reflective logs or journals to help connect theory with practice.

Alternative Teacher Certification

Many states now have alternative pathways to teacher certification that allow people to work as a classroom teacher before they are fully certified. Some programs place these teaching interns in the classroom with only 4-8 weeks of preparation, usually in practical teaching skills. Others require more significant preparation, such as 9 to 15 months of part-time coursework. Programs also offer varying levels of support from certified teachers.

Critics of alternative programs charge that they over-rely on training rather than education. For example, in "The First Year Teacher: Why You May Fail," authors Algird Sunskis and Stephen Jarvis state: "We are not saying that training teachers is wrong. But we are saying that when it comes to providing professional development opportunities for our teachers, training, all to the exclusion of educating, is wrong. And that's the situation we are facing today."

Current Usage

Education specialists increasingly prefer "teacher education" for the general process of teacher preparation. In the words of education professor O.L. Davis, Jr. of the University of Texas at Austin, "There is no such thing as teacher training. You train dogs; you educate teachers." Similarly, Dr. Alan Valentine has claimed that if you only train teachers, they will only train children.

Advocates of "teacher education" have claimed that "teacher training" might devalue the profession relative to other academic and professional fields. For example, although "college of teacher training" was once a common term in American universities, law colleges have never been known as "colleges of lawyer training." Proponents of teacher education also charge that if the prestige of an area is diminished within an institution, it receives less of a fiscal commitment.