Redesigning (not redecorating) teacher preparation

RedecorateMy recent rant on problems in teacher preparation has some of my friends concerned that I see no hope for the future of the profession. Not to worry.

Many states, including my own, are touting ‘Blue Ribbon Redesign’ commissions to come up with changes in their teacher preparation and licensure programs. While well-intentioned, too many of these commissions tend not to break new ground; they repeat well-worn data and recommendations, print a nice report, and then we all go back to business-as-usual. Just like moving around the furniture in your living room can make it appear fresher, but it’s still the same stuff in the same room.

One innovative program I do think has great promise is the Boston Residency Program. It places candidates for a full year in a real classroom alongside an accomplished teacher, while also providing rigorous and timely pedagogical instruction. This should be the basic procedure used to prepare all new teachers.

When I worked with pre-teaching candidates in one of our state’s alternate certification-route programs, it struck me how much better prepared they were to enter the classroom than I had been because they had been given the opportunity to take advantage of what I and other successful practicing teachers could share with them. Not what their instructor had read about teaching or remembered from years past, but what I did today that worked with the same students they would soon be teaching.

Connecting pre-service teacher candidates and practicing accomplished teachers is such a logical step that I was stunned to learn how many teacher ed programs don’t use it. In a recent summit of National Board Certified Teachers in Mississippi, the point was repeatedly made by these highly accomplished teachers that they want to be involved in preparing new teachers, but most have not been invited.

Some teacher ed programs, to their credit, have taken teacher leaders up on our offer and opened the virtual door to bring highly accomplished teachers into teacher ed. The Quest project, co-sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) and the Goldman Fund, makes the instruction and action research work of outstanding classroom teachers in their own classrooms available to partnering teacher ed programs. “…(F)aculty in teacher education programs use these materials in their classrooms, helping students connect theory and practice by seeing how a teacher’s work is shaped by its particular context and how it grows and develops over time” (CFAT).

You can see some of these teacher websites here. (Disclosure: Yes, I’m one of them). The demonstrations of practice embedded in these sites are a terrific resource for pre-service programs. I was thrilled to have pre-service teachers from Mills College (Oakland CA) email me about my site with wonderful questions and observations about the context and preparation for the lessons they saw.

Edutopia, sponsored by the George Lucas Foundation, also has a thoughtful feature on some fresh directions in teacher ed, including the Boston program. I highly recommend theircollection of articles and websites on developments in teacher ed.

Time to tear down some walls, rewire, and really rethink how we prepare people for the consummate profession.