A Practitioner’s Reflections From AACTE Annual Meeting
As a practicing high school classroom teacher, I have made it a point to be aware of educational happenings. When the Common Core standards were introduced I learned what they were and whom they affected and thought about the impacts on how I would teach the upcoming students. As edTPA and other higher education reforms began to occur I registered to score edTPA to learn about what it was. I continued to monitor the higher education landscape from a distance. I remained in close contact with three institutions of higher education where conversations would dabble in shifts but never seemed to be too urgent.
Looking from the outside in, it is easy to deduce why you think certain things are occurring. Prior to attending the AACTE Annual Meeting, I had some experience working in teacher preparation during the summer and by hosting preservice teachers. I updated my knowledge of changes in law during my fall focus groups, researched factors impacting teacher preparation that connected findings from our Hope Street Group Teacher Preparation Report, and even spoke with individuals who worked within teacher prep at various universities within New York State. I perceived myself as well informed with (as always) some room for growth.
What I was unprepared for was the vast amount of knowledge I was going to gain during the 72 hours at AACTE’s conference—the many nuances that those on the outside, or even partially on the inside, never consider. In each session I became increasingly grateful for my experience to learn about what is occurring within higher education. All schools PK-20 are undergoing monumental reform at the federal and state levels. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know about clinical practice, advocating/recruiting to increase diversity, handling shifting certification requirements that vary from state to state, building connections with university faculty, and focusing on job placement/career retention—all essential for increasing the capabilities of incoming educators.
The biggest theme that stood out to me was one of uniting together, PK-20. Numerous sessions spoke about increased engagement of educators. We are separated by our different institutions and lack of interconnectedness. I also perceive our continued isolation as part of a bigger problem: nervousness for the future of our profession. At AACTE I had time to network with those who teach and lead teacher education programs. Many of these individuals I have remained in contact with since leaving the meeting, learning about the success and challenges within their programs. I am more optimistic than ever that it is time to lower the walls between PK-12 and higher education to stand strong behind what is best for our profession, the future teachers of America, and our students.
Education is at a tipping point with attention coming from every direction, every stakeholder, and all of the time. We have evidence of the outcomes relating to certain changes, and we have research of what works in other countries. Together we need to develop a sustained narrative of focus on improvement, celebration of success, continuing to evolve as challenges are met, and elevating those within our profession.
Since returning to upstate New York, I’ve encouraged my peers interested in discussions to contact their alma mater universities. I’ve asked them to help bridge the gap, learn about higher education by asking questions to produce dialogue, expanding what you need to know. Do what you can to place yourself on the inside, fully understanding what is happening and why. Change happens slowly and never occurs without a strong system of support. Be the cheerleader and supporter.
Amanda Zullo, NBCT, is a chemistry teacher at Saranac Lake High School (NY), a 2015 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, and a New York State Master Teacher-North Country. Follow her on Twitter at @Chemteach201.