What My Program Did Right
They say hindsight is 20:20. While leading focus groups about teacher preparation for a nationwide report I found myself thankful at the choice I made to attend Union Graduate School (now Clarkson University) eleven years ago. My first weeks teaching were baptism by fire. This motivated me to research where I was going to go for graduate school. I was looking to find schools that had: robust teacher training programs to adequately prepare me for a career; solid networks to facilitate career growth and jobs; and students/alumni who spoke highly of the connection between course-work and classroom practices. I went to schools checking out their staff, classes, and interviewing their students.
I choose Union Graduate College over other near-by and less expensive institutions based on what their school offered that was different.
- Classes blended pedagogy and content. Each week during the summer was a different pedagogical focus area (discussions, inquiry, project based, etc.). Classes were taught in the ‘style of the week’. All education students were divided into groups of 12-15 mixed content, experience, age and background. We taught one lesson per week in the style of the week to 12-15 mixed content colleagues. Warm (strengths of the lesson) and cool (areas to improve the lesson) feedback were provided by other students for use in the lesson reflection. This instilled habits I use to this day: try something once, look back with a clear lens on student gains, write somewhere so I remember in the future.
- Year-long student teaching. I student taught for a full year, one to two periods a day with two teachers. I learned a plethora of teaching styles, management strategies and content/pedagogy blending. I became fully invested in the students. I went through all the ups and downs I would experience as a classroom teacher while under the watchful eyes of experienced mentors. Analysis and reflection on practice was integrated into this experience, too.
- Job search training. Professional dress, resumes + cover letters, interviewing tips, mock interviews and interview follow-up were a part of this. They prepared me as well as they could for the job market.
- Realities of teaching. Teachers were brought in to discuss the ‘nitty gritty’ of teaching . From classroom surprises and wardrobe malfunctions to our future as professionals, current teachers spoke about teaching as a career. We learned about our building networks with our state professional organizations (some even got to attend a free conference), the benefits and work of pursuing National Board Certification, and options of career paths within the profession.
- Alumni follow-up. As graduates we were encouraged to come back and share knowledge. After contributing to five books on guided inquiry instruction, I returned to teach the methodology. This connected me back to the school sharing what I have: my experience and knowledge.
Many of the items listed above can be integrated into already existing programs. It would require the following:
- an additional workshop or two (c, d)
- adjustment of the approach (a) for classes already offered
- engaging alumni (e) because they are your biggest resource and want to be involved. They could provide key insights to your program that will strengthen it for the future.
In order to shift programs to a longer student teaching experience I encourage schools to:
- Talk with the host teachers. Be transparent about the benefits and costs to the pre-service and classroom teachers.
- Have evidence and statistics regarding retention in the profession from model programs.
After my focus group discussions, I realized I was one of the lucky ones. Many people I spoke with said they felt unprepared to enter the classroom and have spent years acquiring strategies necessary to simply survive. However, it shouldn’t come down to luck – it should be a guarantee that all teachers leave prepared for long-term career in education. Learning from what classroom teachers recommended for teacher preparation programs, how will you shift the focus in your program or help the institution you went to make changes? Weigh in on teacher preparation using #TeachersOnDeck on Twitter and Facebook.