Many years ago, a teacher colleague told me, "School is the worst place to try to learn something." Her words rang true for me throughout TFD. School is typically the first place that most children encounter failure. Students' success at home and in the community rarely reflects itself in school tasks. By placing our TFD students in community-based programs (for example, day camps, neighborhood centers, community-run activities), the TFD students came to form different opinions about students' strengths and capabilities.
We considered the student teaching year an apprenticeship year rather than a "performance" year. The students were not engaged in the typical student teaching because their responsibilities were greater than typical student teachers, and they were not asked to "perform" the lessons they learned in their methods courses. Rather, their placement with knowledgeable, skilled, experienced teachers gave them the opportunity to try new things in a context of supportive critique.
In most forms of professional practice, novices are encouraged and expected to ask questions about their work. Medical interns, law clerks, and cub reporters all understand that the way to improve their skills and earn a place in their respective fields is to ask insightful questions to enhance their professional repertoires. Because the TFD students were not expected to perform in front of the class, they came in filled with questions about students, the classroom, the school, and the community.
Perhaps it comes from the persistence of Hollywood images of teachers in our culture, but most people do not believe that teachers do intellectual work. Michele Pfeiffer in the movie Dangerous Minds, Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, and Robin Williams in The Dead Poet's Society are examples of the images of teachers that are inscribed in the public mind. Such depictions on the silver screen rarely show the intellectual work of teaching. Hollywood teachers do not prepare lessons; neither do they take graduate courses or participate in professional networks.