Search form

Ed Schools: Are Tomorrow's Teachers Making the Grade?

How are our teacher education institutions doing? How might they improve on what they're doing? As the school year begins, Education World Principal Files principals reflect on new teachers they have hired in recent years. As well prepared as many of those teachers might be, principals say, colleges could do an even better job of training new teachers for the reality of the classroom. Included: Principals reflect on the need for new teachers to have more hands-on experiences, better classroom management skills, a keener awareness of the interpersonal skills needed to thrive in the school culture, and more!

P-FilesSchools of education have a difficult task. No school administrator would argue that point. Principal Bridget Sullivan described it to Education World: "You can no more prepare a teacher for the complexities of a classroom than you can prepare an adult for parenthood."

Few people would argue another thought that Sullivan and many other principals shared with Education World. Schools of education could do a better job of preparing new teachers, they said.

What could schools of education do to better prepare today's teachers? We posed that question to our Principal Files principals. We could have predicted some of their responses -- but we learned a few surprising things from them too!


Tomorrow's teachers need more opportunities throughout their college preparation to experience life in a real classroom. They need to get out into schools earlier and more often than most of today's future teachers do.

"Send students out on internships for at least their first two months of college, so they can really find out what teaching is all about," suggested Graeme Askew, principal at Streeton Primary School, in Melbourne, Australia. "This will have two results. They will learn whether they want to teach; they won't go through four years of training to find out teaching is not the life for them. It will also make what they later learn in lectures much more meaningful."

Many of Education World's P-Files principals suggested that the final year of teacher preparation should be more intense than the eight- or 15-week experiences most teachers-to-be get.

"The traditional semester-long student teaching experience is not enough," said Jon Romeo, principal at Mitchell Elementary School, in Woodbury, Connecticut. "There should be many opportunities for student teachers to be exposed to classroom situations -- at different grade levels -- during their years in college."

"A few weeks of classroom practicum is not enough to prepare our future teachers," said Marie Kostick, principal at Goodwyn Junior High School, in Montgomery, Alabama. "The internship program should be a year long."

Principal Jim Clark suggested that a fifth year should be added to teacher preparation programs. That final year would be spent in the classroom full-time. The student would be paid, "though maybe not at full salary," he added.

The program would be fully mentored, suggested Clark, who is principal at T. R. Simmons Elementary School, in Jasper, Alabama. "The supervising teacher and adviser would work together to ensure that the student teacher is learning from an experienced master teacher," he said. Mentor teachers would be seasoned professionals "who would have a stake in these young teachers and who are interested in providing the kind of guidance needed to train them." Such a plan would provide excellent beginning teachers for schools, Clark added.

Lucie Boyadjian, principal of Glen Oaks School, in Hickory Hills, Illinois, summed up the principals' feelings about providing more hands-on experiences for future teachers: "More time in the classroom with direct instruction allows the undergraduate the opportunity to experience an entire year's worth of classroom activities."


Brian Hazeltine agreed that being in the classroom on the first day of school is an essential element of any teacher preparation program. "Many student teachers parachute into the classroom in early October and leave at the end of November," said Hazeltine, principal at Airdrie Koinonia Christian School, in Airdrie, Alberta (Canada). "Far better -- and I can see the difference in the teachers, believe me -- is the practice of having teachers join the school staff during the orientation days in early August and stay with the school full-time through the staff Christmas party and the end of the year festivities.

"For a teacher to miss the first day of school is to miss a lot," added Hazeltine. "To enter the classroom after routines and expectations have been established in September is to end up with a complete misunderstanding of the teaching process. Routines and good behavior don't just happen. Students are trained all through the first days and weeks."

"Anyone going into teaching should spend a few weeks at the beginning of several school years in a real classroom observing the real -- not staged -- process of organizing the class for effective instruction," concurred Barbara Woods, principal at Marshall Elementary School, in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

"Realistic understanding of classroom management -- rules and procedures -- seems to be a need for nearly all beginning teachers," added Woods. "The year starts so quickly. Very little help is available during the critical first few days of school."


Woods was not alone in thinking that new teachers need better training in classroom management. That was a common theme expressed by the principals Education World talked to.

"So many new teachers seem to believe that a knowledge of subject matter is enough," said Jack Burns, principal and chief administrator at South Pacific Academy, in American Samoa. "They do not realize that successful teaching requires a knowledge of subject matter and an ability to manage a classroom.

"The biggest failing among new teachers is that they don't understand the need to teach routines and procedures," Burns told Education World. "The truth is, once is not enough. This teaching must be done over and over.

"Too often, new teachers assume that students have this little genetic packet that will open when they enter a classroom," added Burns. "The new teachers assume that the students can read the teacher's mind regarding such things as sharpening a pencil, turning in assignments, and how to take notes, and the list goes on and on."

Deborah Harbin agrees that teacher training programs need to spend more time preparing teachers for managing classrooms. "Teacher prep programs spend a lot of time on the science of teaching and subject area content," but little time on those other areas, noted Deborah Harbin, principal at Holbrook Elementary School, in Houston.

"[Teacher training programs] also need to help new teachers understand the power of building relationships with students," Harbin explained. "Kids have to know that you care -- before they care what you know."


As a program specialist in the Grant Joint Union High School District, in Sacramento, California, Lyn McCarty works closely with school leaders. She believes that most first-year teachers experience more disillusion over the issue of classroom and behavior management than any other teaching challenge. The first year often turns into an exercise in survival, she said.

"It doesn't have to be that way," McCarty told Education World. Teacher training institutions could do a much better job of providing their students with classroom- and student-management skills. "Not the gimmicky token systems and reward-and-punishment routines but real understanding of human development as it relates to motivational issues," she said.

"Students respond very predictably to manipulative, coercive, or shame-based management," added McCarty. "That kind of management is not successful in the long term. It sets teachers up in a social contract of manipulation -- a game that the students are quite good at. This dynamic produces ... students who are stunned when the real world does not offer popcorn parties or raffle tickets whenever they do what is required or expected of them."

"Too many times, education classes focus on how to reward students and how to use parties as incentives," agreed Bridget Sullivan, principal at Warren (Massachusetts) Elementary School. "Rewards and parties are nice but fleeting.

"Classroom management techniques are hard won," added Sullivan. "Walking into a classroom with a bag of tricks provides a few tools for the new teacher, but that teacher needs practical techniques. Teachers need to know the importance of being able to see the entire classroom no matter where they are in the room, how to ignore some behaviors, how to genuinely compliment students, how to count to 3, 10, whatever ... ."


Other Stories from
the P-Files

* Lessons Learned the Hard Way

* Decisions, Decisions! A Week in the Life of a Principal

* Principals Share Parent Involvement Ideas

* The School of My Dreams!

* Advice for First-Year Teachers -- From the Principals Who Hired Them!

* Good Principals: What Traits Do They Share?

* Teachers Who Make Principals Say WOW!

* If You Had a Choice, Would You Still Be a Principal?

* What Do Principals Do? (From a Child's Point of View)

* Principals Search for Words to Rally the Troops!

* What Qualities Do Principals Look for in a New Teacher?

Education students really need to be taught the value of good lesson organization too, said Sullivan. "Organizational skills -- for example, how to plan and sequence lessons, the importance of gathering materials ahead of time, and how to create follow-up assessments -- help prepare the teacher and enable the teacher to handle the unexpected."

Lesson planning and preparation need to be addressed, echoed Marie Kostick. "Methodology courses need to be revised to include a variety of teaching strategies and theories -- and to provide practice using them."

Karen Linden, principal at Oliver School, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), agreed. Teacher education institutions are the necessary lever for effective reform, she said, but they need to "spend lots of time helping students learn and practice a wide variety of instructional strategies.

"Imagine where a new teacher would be if he or she was fluent in the use of Kagan's cooperative structures, of higher-level thinking strategies, of graphic organizers ... ." said Linden. "Those strategies empower both teachers and students.

"We need to move away from reinforcing the idea of the teacher as the classroom power base so the teacher may see and facilitate what our young people are truly capable of," added Linden.

According to Susan Maguire, principal at Lake Louise Elementary School, in Lakewood, Washington, teacher preparation programs need to provide students with practical teaching tools. New teachers need more practice with grading. They need knowledge of the scope and sequence of curriculum and a global perspective of the year's work. Beginning teachers need the tools to manage effective and meaningful parent conferences and build effective rubrics with students, other teachers, and parents.

Principal Sandy Pommerening added to that list -- provide future teachers with the skills to teach students how to study and provide future high school teachers with more elementary-level teaching skills. "Secondary teachers are often too subject focused, not student centered enough," Pommerening, principal at Kellogg (Idaho) Middle School, told Education World.

Students training to become teachers need instruction in assessment strategies too, noted principal Julie McCann. "Too often, the assessments new teachers use have very little to do with the standards they are expecting students to meet," said McCann, principal at Western View Middle School, in Corvallis, Oregon. In addition, "the methods and items are not congruent with the thinking processes we are trying to develop in our students."


"My veteran teachers and I often discuss new hires just out of surrounding universities," principal Mary Ellen Imbo told Education World. "We talk about their lack of training in interpersonal skills, their lack of professionalism with peers."

When Imbo interviews potential teachers for Westwood Elementary School, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, she makes a habit of asking if they were ever instructed in their college education courses about professional behavior. "All around, the answer is a resounding 'No!'" said Imbo.

Imbo told of a teacher on temporary contract last year. "She had wonderful instructional strategies, but she quit talking to faculty members," Imbo recalled. That teacher was not rehired for the coming school term.

Another recent example Imbo shared was that of a newly graduated teacher who filled in for a teacher on maternity leave. "She made negative comments to others about the principal," said Imbo. "The principal found out. That comment put [the substitute teacher] out of the running for two positions at the school.

"When a teacher team and I hire a new teacher into our school, we tell him or her our expectations about professionalism," said Imbo. "I expect teachers to set expectations for students. Administrators owe it to their staffs to set them up for success by doing the same."

"New teachers ought to be given a short course or seminar in 'reading' and understanding the school culture," added Julie Ryan, principal of the lower school at the American School in London (UK). "How can new teachers enter a school in a way that is positive and respectful of the decisions and procedures that are in place? How can they work collaboratively and constructively to improve the school and its culture? How can they get more experienced or entrenched teachers to be receptive to their new ideas?" Those are some of the things teacher prep programs should prepare their students to handle, said Ryan.

Susan Maguire agrees. In any school, some teachers will bend over backward to help a new teacher, and others will be more standoffish, she says. "If new teachers had a clue about what they might face in a school, they might have some strategies for breaking through the [standoffish] teacher crust to find a treasure of good ideas and quality support."


Preparing students to handle daily classroom management, use a wide variety of practical teaching tools and strategies, and work well in the "school culture" are a few of the keys to improving teacher education that Education World P-Files principals shared.

There were others, however. The move toward "inclusive" education for all students spurred Bonita Henderson to focus on a subject "near and dear to my heart."

"Teacher education institutions must provide special education classes to all education students," said Henderson, assistant principal at Pleasant Ridge School, in Cincinnati. "Those classes should be required for graduation.

"Teachers need to be able to recognize children with special needs and effectively work with those children until they can be placed with someone specialized in the child's area of special need," added Henderson. "Unfortunately, sometimes that placement can take a year or more."

A couple of principals focused attention on the need for teacher education instructors to get out of their offices and into schools more often. "University staff need to come to schools to find out what's happening," noted Graeme Askew. "Some of the things they are telling students are contradictory to the reality."

"College professors teach discipline methods that would work if classrooms were what those professors believe them to be," added Barbara Woods. "But times have changed the students -- and what works -- since many of the college instructors were in the classroom."

"Students' coursework should also include some type of school law course," said Lucie Boyadjian. "That way, new teachers will better understand the rights of their students and the students' parents, as well as their own."

Bridget Sullivan wishes that education schools could teach future teachers an important skill that is probably impossible to teach. "Most candidates enter the teaching field with a sincere desire to teach and sincere affection for kids of all ages," Sullivan told Education World. "Somehow, I wish colleges could teach new teachers to relax and enjoy the job. Genuine caring communicates itself when it is not blocked by nervousness and anxiety."

Principal Laura Crochet of Genesis Alternative High School, in Houma, Louisiana, offered one last piece of advice that supercedes all the other great advice that has been offered: "College programs should teach future teachers that 'Regardless of what we teach you in here, there is a real world out there -- and you should be prepared to learn anew!'"

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World