Check out this piece I wrote for Teaching and Learning 2016.
35 pairs of eyes stared at me expectantly. A classroom of thirty 13 year olds sized me up, deciding whether the new 8th grade English teacher was easy prey. Having not taken a single teacher preparation class, I tried my best not to panic. I wasn’t even really a teacher yet. I was a University Intern who felt ill equipped for this pivotal moment, my first day as an educator.
Teachers entering the profession today are facing a massive achievement gap, highly diverse student populations, more rigorous standards, and an ever-changing political landscape. It’s essential that we take serious steps to help our new teachers navigate this complex profession. As a National Board Certified Teacher, I keep in mind Core Proposition 5 and take responsibility for assisting my learning community.
Therefore, along with 17 other Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, last fall I conducted peer research on the issue of teacher preparation. We held focus groups and online surveys, gathering the voices of nearly 2000 U.S. teachers about what they needed for effective teacher prep. While my experience as a University Intern, working full-time as a teacher and attending a Master’s/credentialing program after school, is certainly unusual, my experiences do mirror many of the concerns I heard during my focus groups.
One key finding from the research — published this week in “On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers” — specifically addresses this concern: “Teachers emphasized the importance of hands-on classroom experiences, especially when serving high-need/persistently low-achieving populations.” My first day I walked into a school where the population was 97% free and reduced lunch, neglect at home was commonplace, and the harsh realities of urban life often clashed with their desire to learn. I had no idea how to begin to teach these kids anything, let alone something as integral as reading and writing. Teacher candidates need robust in-classroom experiences to truly prepare for the day-to-day challenges of a career in teaching.
What can I, and others like me, do as a current classroom teacher?
- Host and work with pre-service teachers. Current classroom teachers can help prepare the next generation of teachers by offering support aligned with the issues outlined in our report. This can include assistance in unpacking new college- and career-readiness standards and how to effectively work with low achieving populations. While my district currently has no partnership with an Institute of Higher Education (IHE), I can adapt by helping those who are new to the profession. Teacher retention was key to many teachers I spoke with, and we should be ready to help new teachers early and often.
- Connect with your local IHE. Even if hosting a pre-service teacher is not an option, there are still ways to be involved. Reach out to your local IHE, and see if there is a way to share your expertise. Invite pre-service teachers in for observations, or offer to present about your experience as a teacher.
- Advocate for the profession. Organizations such as Hope Street Group, NBTPS, ASCD, VIVA, ECET2 and E4Eare excellent ways to get involved. These groups, and so many more, can help position you at your state and local levels to take part in these important conversations. Teachers should be engaged at all levels; district, state and federal.
Want to start the dialogue now? Join the conversation about teacher prep on Facebook or Twitterusing #TeachersOnDeck. If you are attending Teaching & Learning, Hope Street Group fellows and NBCTs Freeda Pirillis (Illinois) and Amanda Ward (Washington) will be presenting a session about this research on Friday, 3/11 at 8:30 a.m.: “Teacher Prep: Reflections from Classrooms.” We look forward to seeing you there!