This Fall I held focus groups for the Hope Street Group’s National Teacher Fellowship project (that was in collaboration with the United States Department of Education) 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 9 focus groups I held. While our demographics were slightly mixed we mostly represented teachers at rural, many in Title I districts.
The differences between experience (over 16 years experience) and new (under 5 years experienced) echoed in each group I spoke with. Many experienced teachers would state “there were no standards” while teachers working less than 5 years stated “everything was about college and career ready, everything”. When asked about challenging or high needs populations more experienced staff stated “I use life experience” where new teachers stated “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 other schools it simply took contacting someone I knew, establishing a date and showing up with cookies, water-bottles, post-it’s and pens. In many cases the conversations have continued long after the focus groups. I still get emails 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.
The literature of what teacher preparation programs should teach is plentiful. As I was examining the results of the work that we did this fall finding articles that correlated with our findings, I had to unbury myself. I began to wonder if higher education was utilizing their alumni to the greatest extent they could; to inform their programs. I hear from one program asking for money (almost monthly) and another prior to when I teach a pedagogical lesson. However, it is rare that I share the one thing I have the most of, knowledge about the current state of the profession. This is a conversation everyone K-12 and in higher education deserves to have with each other. 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.