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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Supervising to the Top: Holding High Expectations of Teacher Candidates

There’s an expression in education known as “teaching to the middle.” This means gearing the majority of instruction and curriculum towards students performing at grade level or in the middle of the class.

I’ve never cared for this concept since I believe it produces a mediocre mindset in teaching, and thus, mediocre results.  Rather, I resonate with the idea of teaching to the top of of the class, which means setting the bar high and expecting students to eventually meet those expectations.

I think the same concept holds true for teacher candidates—those in teacher preparation programs training to teach in their own classrooms.  If we want to develop high-quality, competent, passionate teachers, we must set the bar very high and encourage these emerging teachers to reach these heights. We must avoid caving to pressures to lower expectations in an effort to recruit more students to programs or improve completion rates. While we should provide support structures to struggling candidates, we should also avoid placing all our attention on these candidate at the expense of challenging those performing at average-to-higher levels.

Teaching is an incredible demanding job, and if we are to effectively prepare candidates, we must hold them to incredibly high standards. The alternative is we allow them to complete programs that fail to prepare them for such demands. Professors, university supervisors, and mentor teachers, and others involved in preparing the next generation of teachers must supervise to the top.

What does supervising to the top look like in a teacher program? Here are some examples:

  • Establish high expectations that are clearly stated. There should be no surprises. Candidates must know exactly what is expected of them during the program. This comes from clear communication. Candidates should also be held responsible for meeting these expectations, for instance, signing an agreement that outlines program expectations.
  • Expect high levels of professionalism.  Candidates must be taught and held to high standards of professional etiquette in the workplace. This includes everything from how they dress to speaking with parents, faculty members, and students.
  • Hold candidates to standards of excellence within teaching.  Taking their stage of development into consideration, supervisors must set the bar high when it comes to candidates’ increasing abilities to deliver instruction, manage behaviors, communicate, differentiate learning, and work collaboratively in a school community. There can be no compromise in this area if we are to produce high-quality teachers for the future.
  • Create support systems and structures that enable candidates to reach these high standards. It's not enough to simply demand excellence. Teacher programs must be designed to offer social, emotional, intellectual, and moral support to candidates. Supervisors must work in close teams with mentor teachers and others to provide candidates with the encouragement, techniques, approaches, and methods to reach excellent in teaching. For instance, we cannot simply evaluate a candidate’s teaching performance and note what’s wrong. Candidates need specific feedback and suggestions and resources to make consistent improvements and reach their professional goals.
  • Design opportunities for candidates performing at average to above-average levels to continue to push their abilities and grow. Attention must be placed on these candidates so that they are continually challenged.

Like students in the classroom, teacher candidates will rise to meet the standards that we set for them. Raising the bar will help ensure that these candidates are trained to meet the every-increasing challenges of the classroom and promote a culture of excellence. Let’s supervise to the top.