SEATTLE -- Hemant Mehta's formal training taught him how to write a lesson plan and how public schooling began in the United States, but it was useless when it came to keeping order in the classroom and getting students to pay attention.
To get through his first year teaching math to high school students in Naperville, Ill., the 27-year-old needed help from Twitter, math blogs on the Internet, TV sitcoms and experienced teachers down the hall.
"The ideas there are so much better than my formal training," Mehta said. For example, he discovered that students learn a lot more math when they're having fun, playing games or watching video clips.
Critics say few colleges provide adequate nuts-and-bolts teaching skills such as classroom management and dealing with the class goof-off.
"It's complicated in the United States because we don't as a country agree that teachers need much preparation," said Suzanne Wilson, chairwoman of teacher education at Michigan State University.
Educators say much is being left out of teachers' lesson plan, from keeping kids engaged to leading a meaningful class discussion and using student test data to assess when students are ready to move on.
Mehta would add to the list motivating kids to do their homework, dealing with parents, reading a teacher contract, using classroom technology like Smart Boards, and whether it's OK to accept friend requests from students on Facebook.
Educators across the nation have begun to work together on what teacher education needs to look like in the future, and the federal government is getting involved.
In a speech to Columbia University's Teachers College last fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the federal government would be investing in the reform of teacher training programs as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"We should be studying and copying the practices of effective teacher preparation programs, and encouraging the lowest performers to shape up or shut down," Duncan said.
Duncan said despite evidence that teachers are not being prepared for the reality of the classroom, teacher education programs have been resistant to change, and states have been reluctant or unprepared to use student test data to track which colleges are producing the most effective teachers.
Pam Grossman, a professor of curriculum and teacher education at Stanford University, said the pendulum swings back and forth between a focus on craft and theory in teacher education.
Is it more important for a teacher to know how to get first-graders to sound out words or should they be knowledgeable about why some kids learn to read in kindergarten and others don't figure it out until second grade?