Marcey Wennlund and Graham Schultze are first-year teachers and 2014 graduates of the Teacher Education Program at Wheaton College. Both teachers participated in a pilot program of edTPA, an educative preservice assessment, as part of earning their professional educator licensure. In this article, Marcey and Graham talk about edTPA and how well they think it prepared them for a career in teaching.
What are some positive things you took away from the edTPA process?
Marcey Wennlund: One of the most beneficial aspects of edTPA is the overall comprehensive view it gives of the teacher candidate. The candidate needs to plan, document, and reflect on their practice and create a portfolio that includes detailed lesson plans, 15-20 minutes of video footage, examples of student work, pre- and post-assessment data, and reflections on practice.
In our state, it’s no longer feasible for candidates to gain licensure through a standardized test. By including personalized components that take candidates’ individual contexts into account, edTPA is acknowledging the complexity of the profession and the unique perspective that each teacher brings to the classroom. I think the lens that edTPA provides evaluators and educator preparation programs is much more informative than any standardized test.
Graham Schultze: I appreciated edTPA’s focus on self-evaluation. It also puts a lot of focus on students’ individual histories. Every student has a unique academic and social past; edTPA stresses the importance of being aware of those histories and using that knowledge to reach students more effectively.
What could be improved about the edTPA process?
MW: The biggest stumbling blocks for me were having to quickly master “edTPA lingo,” in addition to the overall requirements, while in the middle of student teaching. Not only was I planning lessons and prepping for the next day at school, I was also trying to understand the logistics of edTPA.
GS: In my opinion, the key improvement edTPA needs is boiling it down to necessities. I recognize that edTPA has broken things into planning, instruction, and assessment. But there also needs to be less busyness underneath each category. Teaching 20-plus students is mindboggling enough; spelling out every step of that process only adds to the noise. But from what I understand, those improvements are being implemented already.
Did the writing components help you reflect on your practice?
GS: At first, I felt viewing my video footage was more helpful than writing at length about my practice. I recall feeling overwhelmed by the amount of required writing. But now that I’m getting a taste of first-year teaching, I see how the amount of writing I did for edTPA is very similar to what I will have to write for my professional teaching evaluation.
Do you think the video recording requirement is useful?
MW: The video component definitely helped me better understand and improve my classroom practice. I am my own worst critic. But once I allowed myself to fill that role, I realized that I have a keen eye for seeing ways to improve because I was the one who designed and delivered the lesson. (The video can be both your best friend and worst enemy in that way.) I knew the process, the product, and the desired outcome. Therefore, I could see the instances where I could improve my teaching for my students’ benefit.
GS: I found it most useful in terms of monitoring student engagement. As much as I try to keep an eye on every student while teaching, it’s virtually impossible. Thanks to my video camera, however, I was able to look back on my lessons and determine what I was doing well and what needed improvement. For example, patterns among students became clear. Seeing which students constantly talk behind my back helped me improve my instruction significantly.
Do you feel edTPA prepared you to assess students?
MW: Because of edTPA, I feel more prepared to explain the why behind my instructional choices, which includes assessing students.
GS: edTPA isn’t going to take someone who is a bad teacher and miraculously make them great, nor will it rock the pedagogical world of an already good teacher. What edTPA does is aid a teacher by preparing them to navigate the waters of the teaching profession—which includes thoroughly explaining the reasons behind your professional actions.
Now that you’re both in the classroom full-time, do you feel that edTPA played an important role in your preparation for the classroom?
GS: As I prepare for my first formal teacher evaluation, I see how closely it is related to the edTPA process. I do see now how edTPA was a bit of a sign of things to come. I feel confident that I will handle the evaluation more professionally and efficiently due to my experience with edTPA.
MW: I would echo what Graham said. As I start working through citing evidence for the Danielson Framework, I am reminded of edTPA. Completing edTPA has been good preparation for upcoming teacher evaluations because I learned how to write professionally about my teaching practices.
What suggestions would you give for teacher candidates going through the edTPA process?
GS: I would suggest that candidates take it seriously but understand that it’s not something that will change their teaching abilities drastically. edTPA ought to be looked at as something that will give you an honest opinion on how you’re doing as a teacher. I hope that it is formative and beneficial for all. Hopefully, it will illuminate flaws that candidates should correct or improve before entering the demanding teaching profession.
MW: I would suggest that candidates not get too bogged down in the smaller details of edTPA, but instead focus their energy on striving towards excellence in their teacher practice. Looking at edTPA as an educative assessment is valid if candidates take it seriously. edTPA shows candidates’ areas of strength as well as their weaknesses. All good teachers need to reflect and adjust their teaching practice as they strive towards becoming great teachers.
Marcey Wennlund is a 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Blackwell Elementary in Schaumburg, Illinois. When not at school, Marcey enjoys cutting out laminated classroom posters and going to the library to hunt for 25¢ children’s books.
Graham Schultze is a 5th grade teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Wheaton, Illinois. When not teaching, he spends his time grading, planning, writing tests, reading children’s literature, and sleeping or eating (if time allows).