Giving New Teachers the Right Start

By guestblogger Scott Wade, an 8th Grade English teacher at PS/MS 29 in the Bronx, New York. He was also a member of the 2013 Educators 4 Excellence-NY Teacher Policy Team on teacher preparation.

The recently released report from the National Council on Teacher Quality on Teacher Prep Review instantly became a lightning rod for both praise and criticism. While the NCTQ’s declaration that teacher preparation programs have become largely “an industry of mediocrity” shocked many outside of the education field, as a teacher, it was tragically not a surprise. I am all too familiar with the consequences of this mediocrity; teachers live with them every day.

As a first year teacher at PS/MS 29 in the Bronx, New York, I encountered a vast array of issues from classroom management and data collection to the painful split between my theory-based education and the realities of my urban classroom.  I experienced the consequences of this “industry of mediocrity” firsthand.  And I, for one, will not accept this.   

By all means, my teacher preparation program at the University of Pennsylvania, ranked in the top 10 nationally, should have adequately prepared me to be ready on day one. Yet, it took only my first principal observation to point out my inadequacies in the classroom. It was only then that I was introduced to such fundamental concepts as modeling a lesson for students and checking for understanding – concepts that are second nature to successful teachers. In spite of my endless amount of enthusiasm for the job and having completed a top ranked teacher preparation program, I lacked many of the most basic skills necessary to do the job.

Working to fill in the gaps of my teacher prep program on my own, I reached out to experienced teachers and groups. In that process, I found the teacher advocacy group, Educators 4 Excellence. As an active member, I, along with a diverse group of 17 current NYC teachers, joined a teacher-led Policy Team to propose improvements to teacher preparation programs.  Our policy paper, “Preparing for the Classroom: A Vision of Teacher Training in the 21st Century,” envisions a set of policies for a program which will effectively prepare the next generation of teachers, including changes such as a rigorous admissions process and a notable portfolio defense. Our recommendations reflect the type of training that each of us wishes we had received.

Our policy paper focused on four main aspects of preparation program:

1. Want it: Preparation programs should only accept teacher candidates who show that they “want” to achieve excellence by meeting a minimum threshold as measured by a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and by passing a baseline entrance exam similar to the GRE. Similarly, preparation programs must also account for non-cognitive skills, such as empathy and leadership, to bring individuals into the teaching system who possess the traits found in quality teachers.

2. Learn it: Teacher preparation programs must teach a wider range of competencies beyond theory to include content knowledge, diversity training, classroom strategies and the design of real life lessons. Furthermore, institutions need to hire professors that have recent experience as highly effective classroom teachers. Ultimately, the education school needs to reflect an understanding of the environment of real classrooms in diverse settings.

3. Live it: While certification requirements change by state, many fall woefully short in providing proper student-teaching experience for candidates. It is only through actual practice that a teacher can understand what strategies work for their style. As such, we recommend a year of student teaching in which candidates are gradually given responsibility and eventually take over a classroom. For this to work, candidates must be matched with highly effective teachers as mentors that are fully vetted by the preparation program.

4. Prove it: We must also ensure that those who are certified go through not only a rigorous entrance and training process, but also an equally rigorous set of exit requirements. It’s hypocritical to ask our students to take more intensive Common Core aligned tests while their own teachers are somehow allowed to squeak by with much less scrutiny. We must elevate our field by creating Common Core aligned exit exams for teacher certification based on data that links to student achievement.

As a dedicated educator, I am tired of a system that accepts mediocrity from teachers and hopes for brilliance from their kids, and I am fed up with training programs that forego rigorous screening for candidates and then provide those in their programs with minimal training in the classroom. As a first year teacher, I should not be filling in the gaps of my education and learning strategies on the fly, but building off of great training, theory and student-teaching experience. If we are committed to social justice and improved outcomes for all kids, then we need more than theories – we need preparation programs that produce exceptional teachers.    

4 Replies to “Giving New Teachers the Right Start”

  1. I am expecting to graduate in the Spring and I found everything that you were saying very relative. My university has been diligent in preparing me for the classroom, but I am still anxious and wondering if I am ready for all that it entails. Educators 4 Excellence is an organization I will look into for additional support when I enter the real world. Thank you.

  2. am expecting to graduate in the Spring and I found everything that you were saying very relative. My university has been diligent in preparing me for the classroom, but I am still anxious and wondering if I am ready for all that it entails

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