New Directions in Teacher Training
The conversation about education reform doesn't get very far before people start talking about teachers. Teacher training is a hot topic, schools of education are under fire, and tests and more tests are being administered to aspiring pedagogues - too often with dismal results. We know what needs to happen: better standards for teacher education, improved curricula in education schools, zero tolerance for intellectual inertia - a general raising of the bar.
Sheila Schwartz, a recently retired professor at SUNY writes, "The poor quality of teachers is a prime reason that our public schools are in such poor shape. In today's climate, however, it is not considered appropriate to dwell on this problem. But why should the self-esteem of mediocre teacher candidates be placed above the needs of the children they are being trained to teach?"
Evaluating the educators
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is an independent nonprofit organization that assesses and certifies teachers around the country. In addition to assessing formal knowledge of subject areas, the Board evaluates teachers in a variety of ways: Are they able to adapt their methods as situations vary? Do they themselves learn and change with experience? Can they genuinely motivate and engage kids? Do they see themselves as ongoing learners? "Excellence in teaching,?says the Board, "is the sum of human qualities like judgment and improvisation, expert knowledge and skill, and unflagging professional commitment."
How many teachers fit that description? The Boston Globe's Donald Murray writes, "There are a great many teachers in our schools today who have not one but many graduate degrees, who pay their own way to conferences and workshops, teachers who keep studying their subject and how to teach it, who spend their own money on books and supplies, who try to reach every student every day and, when one way doesn't work, try another and another and another." How are training programs changing to produce more teachers like these?
A different emphasis
Mentors. Hands-on experience. Accountability. Self-evaluation and analysis. These are some of the buzzwords that underlie a new emphasis on how good teachers develop. Here's what the current wisdom tells us:
These days, traditional teacher training programs are no longer the only path for wannabe educators, and the wannabes aren't always young. More older people are entering the profession and their maturity and expertise are viewed as invaluable. Whether they've had prior work experience or raised a family, they're likely to possess better problem-solving and coping skills than students in their twenties.
A collaborative effort between George Washington University and the Fairfax public schools helps adults who already have undergraduate degrees get secondary teacher certification in a single year. Much like medical residents, candidates work night and day - as permanent substitute teachers in their content areas during school hours while completing their university coursework in the evenings. Says one participant, "What is so remarkable about this program is that it creates such close ties between theory and practice."
Teach for America is another alternative to graduate education programs. Founded eight years ago, it has placed more than 4,000 college grads around the country in urban and rural public schools. Participants work with children each morning, collaborate with veteran teachers in the afternoon, and work on lesson plans at night.
Then there are the "professional development schools" (PDSs) - school/university partnerships that connect teaching interns with university faculty and experienced public-school teachers under one roof (usually a designated classroom in a public school). It's an opportunity for the ivory tower guys to participate in the daily life of a school, serve as mentors and assessors, and provide onsite courses and seminars for teacher candidates as well as experienced teachers. The combination of university faculty, front line teachers, and aspiring candidates can result in a first-rate education for students, topnotch training for interns, and a welcome injection of continuing education to seasoned professionals. Says one PDS participant in Colorado, "Here everyone is a learner. We're constantly looking for ways to improve - sharing, pushing each other."
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