Rethinking Effective Teacher Preparation

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe published an article, “Too Many Teachers, Too Little Quality,” highlighting the inadequacy of teacher preparation programs in preparing teachers for the rigors of 21st century classrooms.  Because we work with so many college students preparing to be educators (and as a former teacher myself), the title caught my attention.

As a nation, aren’t we always talking about how we need more young people to choose a career in teaching?  Isn’t that what is so great about organizations like Teach for America?  Here at Tutors for All, we often pride ourselves on giving more young people exposure to work that will increase their investment in education.

However, according to the article, more is not the problem; there are more than two education school graduates for every opening in the United States.  The problem is that  very few teachers enter the profession adequately prepared to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

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The article presents one possible solution:  if we make teacher programs more exclusive, we will attract better candidates.  While I agree that we have a lot of work to do to increase the professionalism and respect associated with teaching, I wonder if requiring a minimum grade point average or impressive SAT scores is really the best way to ensure a new generation of teachers is truly equipped to meet their students’ needs.

I think back on my own teacher preparation program, which was fairly selective, and it is no wonder that I was completely overwhelmed in my first year in the classroom.  While I took many classes to ensure that my grasp on the content was strong, I learned very little about the best way to teach that content.  Though I was training to be an English teacher, nothing about my program prepared me to help my juniors in high school who did not know how to read proficiently.  The abstract theories on student behavior management did not offer much support when two students in my class broke into a fist fight.

So what does it take to ensure that first-year teachers (who as the article points out reach 1.5 million students each year!) are well trained?  Clearly, it is a complicated question, but here are a couple ideas:

  • Increase the amount of time that teachers-in-training spend working with students on the transfer of knowledge.  The more you do this, the better you get!
  • Preliminary teacher preparation should happen in one-on-one  or one-on-two settings.  If they can practice and master their pedagogy with one student, the stakes are not as high when mistakes happen.  Increase student numbers when mastery is apparent.  This is what we love so much about our model, and about the training folks get in programs like Match Corps.  We think there is no surprise that so many Match Teacher Residents go on to become killer teachers!
  • Practicing teachers need regular observation and feedback with ongoing opportunity for reflection in order to grow.  When this can happen in a group among peers, so learning can happen in a supportive community, even better!

Leave a comment to share your ideas about quality teacher preparation with us!

One thought on “Rethinking Effective Teacher Preparation

  1. Sari

    Teacher training programs are an important part of, but not the sole solution to, school improvement. My own training was through Teach for America, so I received a lot of instruction on how to present content, assess learning, etc.–and much less instruction on the content I was actually supposed to teach. While learning HOW to teach is vitally important, we can’t forget to help teachers learn WHAT to teach–especially in alternative training programs like Teach for America, where the classroom in which you do your training (for me, third grade general ed) can be very different from where you are placed to teach long-term (for me, high school special ed English and Global History, with Geometry, Algebra, and Earth Science as needed!). I would agree that working closely with mentors and experienced teachers is also very important–the feedback I received from my co-teachers, school mentor, and TFA supervisor was crucial to my development as an educator.

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