Six ways to improve teacher prep programs

Teacher recruits need a very different kind of preparation to teach the diverse, tech-savvy learners of today and to ready those learners for the 21st-century global marketplace. To make this happen, we must move far beyond reform rhetoric — and we must do so quickly.

Below is a blog post I wrote as part of an online discussion for Learning Matters, a nonprofit media production company that has produced many education-focused reports and documentaries for PBS. Along with several experts in the education field, I was asked to write about teacher quality and teacher training. I encourage you to read the other participants’ responses and leave comments on the full Learning Matters discussion — it’s absolutely worth the read.

Recently, I collaborated with twelve expert teachers to write TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Our Public Schools … Now and in the Future. We argue that universities’ teacher education programs — and highly-touted alternative certification programs like Teach for America — perpetuate out-of-date models of teaching and learning.

Teacher recruits need a very different kind of preparation to teach the diverse, tech-savvy learners of today and to ready those learners for the 21st-century global marketplace. To make this happen, we must move far beyond reform rhetoric — and we must do so quickly. Here are six big strategies that can help teacher preparation programs break the mold:

  1. Ensure that recruits are being prepared for the roles that are most needed in area schools: School districts should develop “labor market” reports, allowing universities to carefully consider how many recruits should be prepared and for what.
  2. Jettison traditional three-hour course credits in favor of performance-based pedagogical modules and assessments: This nimble, practical approach will help recruits to develop specific teaching skills and will better identify who is ready to teach, when, and under what conditions.
  3. Split the time: Work with school districts to create hybrid roles for the most effective teachers to spend half their time teaching and half their time as lead teacher educators.
  4. Understand the community: Require recruits to complete a substantial internship in a community-based organization, developing deep knowledge of how and where students and their families live.
  5. Embrace online: Engage recruits in a virtual network of teachers, preparing them to teach effectively online and to collaborate virtually with teaching colleagues.
  6. Emergent Tech: Work with school districts to expose recruits to live and digitally recorded “lesson studies,” in which teams of candidates learn to critique teaching and assess student learning using emerging technologies.