A Candid Talk to Teacher Educators about Effectively Preparing Teachers Who Can Teach Everyone's Children

Article excerpt

Teacher education is taking center stage in the national discussion of student achievement. Because we in the profession have not been proactive in defining teacher effectiveness or forthcoming about data that indicate that the teachers we prepare are able to positively affect P-12 student achievement, architects of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) have narrowed the public focus on effective teaching to knowledge about content. The focus of this conversational article is on those characteristics that describe teachers who are effective for all children, regardless of academic ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family structure, sexual orientation, and ability to speak English. In this article, we give attention to the issues of equity and social justice--two ideas often addressed in words but much less through action. We begin with some thoughts on the selection of teacher candidates and follow with a discussion of the general knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to becoming an effective teacher, regardless of where, who, or what our candidates will teach. As a profession of teacher educators, we must be clear and overt with our teacher candidates about that which we expect from them by the time they complete our programs and our reasons for these expectations. Finally, we discuss the need for research on and dissemination of results about the effectiveness of our teacher candidates.

The Issue of Candidate Selection

It is no surprise that the demographics of traditional teacher preparation programs and those of teacher educators have not changed dramatically during the past 20 years. The prospective teaching force and the majority of teacher educators are predominately White. As presently constituted, the corps of teacher candidates has limited opportunity to gain perspectives and insights on culture and diversity issues from professors or from classmates of color within its program. In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court made clear the importance of race-conscious admission policies in higher education. The Court stated, "Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation is essential if the dream of one Nation, indivisible, is to be realized" (p. 19). The Grutter decision makes the case for the promotion of diversity in higher education and we, as teacher educators, must become more assertive and creative in the recruitment of teacher candidates of colon Regardless of the geographic area where candidates end up teaching, there is a moral mandate to prepare a diverse teaching corps of culturally relevant teachers. Although some alternative routes to teaching have been successful in recruiting a more diverse corps of teacher candidates (U.S. Department of Education, 2004) and some "grow your own" projects in traditional programs are promising (Hill & Gillette, 2005), there is scant evidence regarding the impact of these candidates on student learning and on their longevity in the profession.

It is also time for teacher educators to enter into serious and contextualized discussions about candidate selection. We all know that there are severe teacher shortages in urban and rural areas, especially those characterized by high levels of poverty. We know there are shortages in key areas such as special education, science, and mathematics. However, we have an ethical and professional responsibility to address the fact that many of our programs allow candidates to enter based on measures of competence such as grade point averages or performance on standardized tests that tell us little about potential for success in the profession. Once admitted, we often have difficulty counseling out or removing students whose behaviors or attitudes signal an inability to help all children learn.

Martin Haberman (1995) addressed issues of selection and retention of teachers who are effective for all students in his book Star Teachers of Children of Poverty. …