Changing how we prepare teachers

Back in October, I shared some of my thoughts on how we could improve the preparation of new teachers to work in real classrooms, particularly in high needs schools in response to Secretary Duncan’s remarks on the mediocrity of current teacher ed programs.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one thinking on this important problem. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), one of the major accreditation agencies for teacher education programs, invited me to participate in its recently convened Blue Ribbon Panel to help develop recommendations for grounding more of new teacher’s training in real classrooms with real students.

According to NCATE, the Panel’s work “will culminate in recommendations for restructuring the preparation of teachers to reflect teaching as a practice-based profession akin to medicine, nursing, or clinical psychology. Practice-based professions require not only a solid academic base, but strong clinical components, a supported induction experience, and ongoing opportunities for learning.”

One of the most encouraging aspects of these discussions is the wide range of stakeholders represented on the panel; although certainly more should be joining the discussion as the work progresses.

As I stated earlier a key feature of any teacher preparation program (whether university based traditional or independent alternate route) should be to systematically and thoughtfully provide all new entrants to the teaching profession with extended experiences of observing and being observed by highly accomplished teachers. This can be challenging in places where those master teachers are spread out, overburdened, and under-compensated. There are ways to make those connections, however, particularly given the technology now available and coming. What’s been lacking is the right combination of willpower and resources. This may be the right time for those alignments.

Historically, the upgrade in the training of doctors led to an accompanying rise in status and respect for the profession. A similar shift in the public perception of the teaching profession is necessary to shake us out of the ‘anybody with a warm-heart and wide-eyed enthusiasm-can-be-a-teacher-fantasy” that is hurting so many of our already disadvantaged students.