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Teacher Recommendations for Enhancing Teacher Preparation

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

I’m a high school teacher in Florida. I entered the profession through an alternative certification route after completing a 20+ year career in telecommunications. Beyond my standard college classes, my classroom-based preparation consisted of only 10 days of observation along with the creation and delivery of two practice lessons. I graduated as “highly qualified” and was hired immediately as a science teacher at the local teacher job fair.

If I were entering the profession now, especially coming from the business world, I would want a more effective teacher preparation experience than the one I had 10 years ago. Many experienced educators concur. Hope Street Group’s On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers (a report released this spring) was the first study that compiled data collected by teachers from classroom teachers regarding their professional preparation. Along with 17 other National Teacher Fellows, I conducted this peer research, sourcing educators of all tenures who were certified in 49 states plus the District of Columbia. Amid several interesting findings in On Deck, two particularly resonated with me as I also reflect on “what I wish I’d learned then.”

First, I would want more training in teaching to the needs of high-risk populations. I ended up in a school serving many students with high needs (70% free/reduced lunch), and I’m constantly working to better my teaching skills to support them. It is an ongoing challenge. My professional development in this area has been mostly self-sought over the years, and that is not enough. I needed to be equipped to support at-risk students before I first entered a classroom.

Second, and far more important, from the beginning of my preparation program I would want more hands-on field experiences and better mentoring from a teacher induction program when I started my first year. My one-year alternative certification program’s 10 days of classroom observation showed me experienced teachers who magically made teaching and classroom management look easy. Nothing could have been further from my first-year reality. The assigned mentor at my school was an experienced teacher, but not in my science field, and she served a role defined more by the completion of paperwork than by ongoing input to help me grow. She visited my class once and condemned, more or less, the behavioral landscape, which featured a multitude of challenges. Who was I to argue? One third of the students were suspended during the school year, two thirds visited detention multiple times, one had had a major run-in with the law, and I wrote over 100 referrals. I would have appreciated more constructive feedback to survive those hellish first few months.

Today, with my continued work as a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow on the topic of teacher preparation, I can share the encouraging news that many colleges of education are expanding in-classroom interning experiences for their students and beginning them earlier, as early as freshman year. If afforded a do-over, I would prefer a program that started internships early and continued them in different settings as a major part of my 4-year teacher education – beyond the pedagogy.

In addition to the nearly 2,000 teacher voices calling for such improvements to preservice learning in On Deck, “invest in innovative models of clinical practice” was among the key “policy asks” recently articulated by the state chapter leaders of AACTE in their State Policy Statements to Enhance Educator Preparation. To have states also support programs that prepare career changers to meet high standards for initial licensure” – another AACTE recommendation by which to strengthen the educator pipeline – will ensure more professionals like me make the rewarding choice to educate our future scientists, mathematicians, and – yes – perhaps even our future teachers, without reducing our preparation in the area it matters most: hands-on time in classrooms with students.

From my personal growth as a teacher, I am confident that improvements to teacher preparation, including the training for aspiring educators to work with high-need youth, and much more time interning before certification, will yield success and a commitment by more young educators to make teaching their life’s work. Those well-prepared and well-supported teachers will then stand as inspiration for others to choose education as a career and undertake their own journeys as teachers. Working together, colleges of teacher education and local school districts can build a college-to-classroom pipeline that will elevate the success of both new and experienced teachers alike.

John E. Clark, a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, can be reached through e-mail at johnedw@cfl.rr.com or through Twitter @johnedwclark.

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John E. Clark

Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow