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NBCTs Say Quality Preservice Prep Matters Long After They Become a Teacher of Record

Everyone likes a great investment, a sure thing, a great return for the money. In education, as in the markets, trying to figure out where to invest for the best results is challenging. Still, solid research can point us in the right direction, which is why I couldn’t wait for the results of the latest study in the “Good to Great” series by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY): Investing in What It Takes to Move From Good to Great: Exemplary Educators Identify Their Most Important Learning Experiences.

I’ve never been a fan of the expression hindsight is 20-20, but in this case it really applies. Exemplary teachers looked back on their careers – with the benefit of hindsight – and talked about the supports that most helped move them along the career continuum from preservice to good, and from good to great. We should absolutely listen to what they have to say.

As a NNSTOY teacher researcher involved in the studies, I was thrilled to see that the results, based on the perspectives of over 5,000 National Board Certified Teachers, confirm and amplify the findings of the original study of 300+ state and national teachers of the year, casting a bright light on where investments have the greatest impact on teachers’ growth as they travel the career continuum.

Key preservice-related findings:

  • Teachers said that at the preservice stage, a high-quality in-the-classroom experience most supported their growth. Key to this experience was having a cooperating teacher who was effective both with students and as an adult mentor.
  • At the teacher leader stage, roles designed to help less experienced teachers improve (such as mentoring, coaching, supervising student teachers, or teaching adjunct courses) were most important in helping teacher leaders themselves become better practitioners in the classroom.

In the focus groups we conducted throughout the series, I was repeatedly struck by the passion with which exemplary educators pointed not only to the importance of their own preservice experience years ago, but also to how their more recent involvement in various capacities supporting preservice and novice teachers were most instrumental in their own continued growth as a teacher “from good to great.”

My own experience mirrors both of these findings. I still often remember the words of my supervising teacher telling me almost 30 years ago, “Make learning come alive, Derek.” I still try to do so every single day. It’s my mantra. And now, inviting preservice teachers into my classroom, mentoring new teachers, and teaching adjunct courses in education have all contributed to improving my practice in the classroom: When I need to prepare a course for preservice candidates on best practices in social studies instruction, I must inherently reflect on my own practice.

When a preservice student spends time in my classroom, quite honestly, it inspires me to up my game, as I know they will be watching my every move. And as I share thoughts on effective teaching with those preservice candidates, graduate students, or with a new teacher I am mentoring, I am reminded myself of what truly matters.  All these things make me a better teacher.

From a policy perspective, fiscally focused decision makers must spend money where they see the biggest return on investment. The conclusions of the “Good to Great” series are glaringly consistent: Investing in strong teacher preparation matters. Programs that bring great teachers into contact with new or preservice teachers often bend the learning curve forward in significant and important ways. When that happens, our students win.

Derek Olson was the 2009 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and is an active member of NNSTOY. He spends his days with sixth graders in Stillwater, Minnesota, and his evenings doing adjunct work with preservice teachers at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

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