Hope Street Group Report: Teachers Reflect on Preparation
A new survey report from the Hope Street Group (HSG) presents perspectives of nearly 2,000 classroom teachers on their own preparation and that of future educators, aiming to inform both preparation program improvement and state and federal policy. The report, On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers, asks whether teachers are being prepared effectively for the realities of today’s classrooms and what changes to curriculum, clinical experiences, and accountability measures might be needed.
The study was conducted by 18 HSG National Teacher Fellows, who are practicing classroom teachers and instructional coaches from 17 states. Last fall, they collected data through surveys and focus groups from other practicing teachers in their regions on their experiences and perceptions of how well teacher preparation providers are doing. Participating teachers ranged from 1 to 31 years of experience and came from all grade levels and subjects and from rural, urban, and suburban settings.
AACTE and the U.S. Department of Education both were invited to provide input on the survey questions and to partner with HGS in the dissemination of the findings and recommendations of the study. Although the report does not tease out certain information that AACTE members would find important, such as about which categories of teachers held which views, it still provides a useful overview of perspectives from teachers with varied preparation experiences and career paths. The questions generated following the initial analysis of the data will help inform a more in-depth analysis and potential future studies.
HSG National Teacher Fellow Amanda Zullo, a National Board Certified Teacher whose day job is as a chemistry teacher at Saranac Lake High School in New York, reflects on her involvement as one of the study leaders:
“Last fall I held focus groups for the Hope Street Group’s National Teacher Fellowship project on practicing teacher perceptions of their teacher preparation programs. During this experience I realized my lack of awareness regarding the changes that had occurred in teacher preparation programs since I had been there. By facilitating, I made a promise to myself to make the time worthwhile for all participants. I wanted to hear each voice for each question. I encouraged active listening. I gathered teachers from many different schools (~25) together in the nine focus groups I held. While our demographics were slightly mixed, we mostly represented rural, Title I districts.
The differences between experience (over 16 years’ experience) and new (under 5 years’ experience) echoed in each group I spoke with. Many experienced teachers would state “there were no standards” [taught in their preparation program] while a teacher who graduated less than 5 years ago said that “everything was about college- and career-ready—everything.” When asked about preparation for working with challenging or high-need populations, more experienced staff stated “I use life experience,” whereas new teachers offered statement such as “For one placement I had to be in the inner city or very rural. WOW—I learned so much there.” As I stepped back and listened, I am happy to say it was evident that higher education practices were adapting and shifting with the times too.
During the 6 weeks that I was holding focus groups, I had no problem finding teachers to talk with. In my school or in others, it simply took contacting someone I knew, establishing a date, and showing up with cookies, water bottles, Post-It notes, and pens. In many cases the conversations have continued long after the focus groups met. I still get e-mails from teachers wanting to share their perspective on a variety of items. This tells me that teachers want to be engaged. Once empowered to do so, they will continue to communicate what they deem essential for you to know.”
Indeed, the study reveals current practitioners’ eagerness to take part in improving how the profession prepares its next generation of teachers. Although many participants reported that they hear from their alma mater only to solicit monetary donations, they were eager to share their knowledge of the current state of the education profession on the ground. Providers should consider ways to utilize their alumni more to inform their programs.
“This is a conversation everyone K-12 and in higher education deserves to have with each other,” Zullo said. “It is a conversation that will impact students at each level for years to come. Teachers want to engage; reach out and talk to them via survey, focus group, snail mail. If you don’t think it will help you, I can assure you one thing: It will help them to know you care.”