Teacher training institutions across the U.S. are working to improve the quality of America's teachers. Here we highlight a handful of programs that are taking steps -- big and small -- to change the way teachers are trained.
In September 1996, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future issued a major report -- What Matters Most: Teaching and America's Future. The report detailed the need for quality teachers. Indeed, the quality of teachers is central to our nation's effort to improve its schools, the report says. The urgent need is underscored by some eye-opening statistics:
We examined the report and these statistics in detail in a previous Education World story, The State of Teacher Preparation: 1997. Now we turn our attention to what's going on in teacher training institutions in an effort to turn the tide on "teacher quality." This story -- the first in an intermittent series -- will highlight a handful of teacher ed programs that are taking steps to change the way teachers are trained.
Although no state will permit a person to write wills, practice medicine, fix plumbing, or style hair without completing training and passing an examination, more than 40 states allow districts to hire teachers who have not met basic requirements!
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) would like to change that!
Reed is proposing a national program that would link schools of education with elementary and secondary schools across the United States in much the same way that teaching hospitals are linked to medical schools.
"We have a support system for doctors and lawyers to continue learning and developing their skills throughout their careers," says Reed. "If this country is really committed to improving its schools, then we need to recognize that teachers deserve the same kind of opportunity"
Just as experienced doctors work to train medical students, Reed proposes that education professionals connected to colleges and universities would provide direct training to teachers in local schools.
Today, about 80 such partnerships already exist. Reed's proposal would provide $100 million in grants to create additional partnerships.
The Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education has won wide praise. The special five-year teacher education program works similar to college programs that train doctors. After four years of coursework, including many practical experiences, students in this program at the University of Cincinnati spend 36 weeks as classroom interns in one of Cincinnati's 11 "professional practice schools." As interns, the students work closely with veteran teachers, who serve as mentors and coaches. And the best part -- the interns are paid as regular half-time teachers!
This unique program has the support of the Cincinnati public schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.
At the "professional practice schools," interns work as part of a team. The team includes a lead teacher (who is released from many teaching duties), a mentor-teacher, and other team members. The intern teaches half a course load (filling in the slot left by the lead teacher) and takes additional college courses; the mentor-teacher receives a stipend of $5,000; and all other teachers on the team receive $1,000 in additional pay.
Why would students be willing to spend an extra year in college when they could go to another college or university and earn their certification in four years?
The student-teaching experience for students in the School of Education at Indiana State University is enhanced considerably by taking on a full day of teaching responsibility within the first four to ten days of their assignment. The day is referred to as baseline day.
The purpose of baseline day, according to an article in the journal Contemporary Education, is to
The supervising teacher is in the classroom for the entire baseline day -- taking notes and resisting the temptation to participate! He or she doesn't participate unless absolutely necessary for safety or health reasons.
Baseline day is followed by a post-conference. The post-conference isn't held on baseline day, because student teachers are usually exhausted at the end of the day. Delaying the post-conference for a day provides some time for the student teacher to analyze and reflect on the experience and for the supervisor to organize notes.
In the post-conference, student teacher and supervisor clarify strengths and establish and plan strategies for the remainder of the ten-week experience.
The majority of student teachers (92 percent) and cooperating teachers (87 percent) strongly support the idea of baseline day. The experience stimulates "open discussion on strengths and needs, shared expectations, and specific ideas for improvement goals." That open communication continues throughout the experience, most agree.
A program at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) recognizes that many new teachers enter the profession ill-prepared to handle the wide-ranging needs of students in today's inclusive classroom. The program is described in a recent issue of Contemporary Education.
The article includes results of several studies. One, a 1990 study, found that about half of classroom teachers believe students in teacher preparation programs should be required to take at least one special education class. In the same study, 38 percent of respondents thought that an inclusive practicum should be part of teacher training. Results of another national study (1991) revealed that less than half of the U.S. states offered students any special education content. Only about 30 percent of states required a specific special education course, and less than 15 percent required students who plan to teach in regular classrooms to have any special education teaching experience.
Instructors at Miami University are taking steps to address the need for including special education content and experience in courses for general education students. Faculty appointed a Distinguished Professional in Residence who has "extensive experience in the implementation of inclusionary models" to help infuse special education content into methods courses.
The result of the first year of the program revealed " a greater understanding of the nature of and the need for inclusionary practices" among many faculty.
In the next decade, thousands of teachers are expected to retire in Connecticut. The need is especially great when it comes to minority teachers. In Connecticut, about 30 percent of the student population is classified as "minority," but fewer than 7 percent of teachers are from minority groups.
Will the state's teachers training institutions be able to help school systems keep up with the demand for teachers -- minority or not?
Last summer, 40 high school students from across the state participated in a month-long program that exposed high school students to the teaching profession. The Summer Institute for Future Teachers, which was held at Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic), was open to students of all races from across the state. The program, funded by a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Education, was free and offered college-level credit for student participants.
"The main focus of the program is to provide students with an opportunity so they can reflect on what teaching is all about and ask themselves if they really want to be a teacher," Elsy Negron, an assistant professor of education at the university told the Hartford Courant. "Teaching in the 21st century is going to call for a more reflective teacher because of the changing student population."
Schools need teachers who will act more like facilitators and less like God, said Walter Dean, the director of the summer institute. He said teachers will need to find new ways to challenge students who need motivation, the paper reported.
"I want to be a teacher so badly," said student Wendy Mayo, who is a senior this year at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut. "I am really learning the actual work it takes, the nitty-gritty things like working with curriculum and learning the motivations and dedication it takes"
In the state of Alabama, a new law went into effect July 1st. The law requires school boards to send failing teachers back to their alma maters!
Seven years ago, the University of Montevallo (Montevallo, Alabama) began providing "guarantees" with each graduate of its teacher certification program. The guarantee, which applied to all students who graduated with a B average or better, was available for one year.
Speaking about the First-Year Teacher Quality Assurance Program, Terry Roberson, the dean of the University of Montevallo's College of Education, said: "It's made us more reflective of our own program. We scrutinize everything we do."
Of the 1,200 teachers who've graduated from the program, only four schools have asked the university to honor their warranty, Roberson adds.
Meanwhile, back at the state capitol, the new Alabama law will hold for all graduates (not just those with B averages) and the guarantee will be good for two years.
One school leader, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, predicted that the new law will limit "ivory tower" courses at colleges of education and lead to more practical experiences for teachers-in-training. Jack Farr, superintendent of Hoover City Schools, predicts that the new law will force colleges of education to "be more diligent with the people who graduate from their teacher programs."
The State of Texas is serious about teacher preparation. Starting in 1998, teacher prep programs will be scrutinized under a new program established by the State Board for Educator Certification. Any teacher training institution that produces "too manygraduates [who] fail the state exam for certifying teachers" will be placed under review, according a report in the Dallas Morning News. A state team will be sent in to help upgrade the program. Students who attend the school would not be able to earn certification.
"If graduates of Institution "X" consistently fail the English ExCET [Exam for Certification of Educators in Texas], we will not allow them to continue to prepare teachers in that academic area," explained Mark Littleton, executive director of the certification board. "After three years, they lose their program."
Ken Craycraft, dean of the College of Education at Sam Houston State University, told the Morning News that a review system is needed to ensure "consistency in the quality of educators who are prepared as well as [to provide] some guarantee to the school districts where the individuals will work that they've all met a set criteria."
Article by Gary Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief
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