Student Teaching for a Specialized View of Professional Practice? Opportunities to Learn in and for Urban, High-Needs Schools

Article excerpt

Several recent volumes synthesize the research on learning to teach, describe effective programs and methods, and lay out theoretical frameworks on which teacher education ought to be based (e.g., Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005; Darling-Hammond, 2006; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005). Across this literature, student teaching--also referred to as clinical experience or teaching practicum--emerges as an almost universal component of university-based teacher education programs (TEPs). Indeed, student teaching is widely assumed to provide preservice teachers (PSTs) with meaningful opportunities to learn. Yet student teaching remains a "black box"; little is known about how student teaching enables (or constrains) PST learning, and even less is known about how TEPs use student teaching to cultivate a knowledge base that is specifically applicable to teaching in urban, high-needs schools, where the need for well-prepared teachers is arguably greatest. (1)

This manuscript reports on a study that aims to open up this "black box" and generate insights about student teaching's contributions to PST learning--insights that can hopefully assist teacher educators as they select placements, structure activities, and otherwise support PSTs' field-based learning. This research finds roots in authentic problems of practice, especially in our struggles to maximize PST learning despite prevailing conditions--for example, stringent instructional mandates (e.g., Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006; MacGillivray, Ardell, Curwen, & Palma, 2004) and disproportionate numbers of new and/or uncertified teachers (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2004; Ingersoll, 2003)--in the schools where our PSTs student teach.

Such research takes on added meaning during an historical moment characterized by popular outcry about educational inequity; widespread belief in teacher quality as the core lever for improved student achievement; tenuous debate about how to define, ensure, and reward quality teaching; and a policy climate marked by sweeping curricular reform, unprecedented scrutiny of schools' technical core, and expanding market-based initiatives that seek to privatize public education and deregulate teacher preparation. Against this backdrop, university-based TEPs are being pushed to demonstrate their contribution to educational outcomes. Now more than ever, coming to greater clarity about the specific contributions of student teaching to preservice learning and inservice teaching represents an important line of inquiry.

Literature Review and Theoretical Foundation

Considerable research suggests that preparing teachers for urban, high-needs schools must involve coursework and field experiences that explicitly build PSTs' multicultural capacities and equity-oriented knowledge (e.g., Cochran-Smith, 1991a; Gay & Howard, 2001; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). A subset of this literature explores empirically the role of urban field placements in the development of such knowledge. Among those articles, most predominantly conceptualize PST learning as belief/attitude change, often viewing student teaching as an immersion experience through which PSTs can develop the self-efficacy (e.g., Knoblauch & Woolfolk-Hoy, 2008; Rushton, 2000, 2003), motivation and commitment (e.g., Wiggins & Follo, 1999; Wiggins, Follo, & Eberly, 2007), and cultural competence (e.g., Fry & McKinney, 1997; Walker-Dalhouse & Dalhouse, 2006) deemed necessary to teach in urban, high-needs schools. Some also suggest that urban student teaching experiences can contribute to PSTs' opinions about or dispositions toward particular instructional approaches (e.g., Proctor, Rentz, & Jackson, 2001; Settlage, Southerland, Smith, & Ceglie, 2009). In turn, many attempt to capture--often comparing pre- and post-student teaching survey data--shifts in PSTs' beliefs/ attitudes along these various dimensions (e.g., Fry & McKinney, 1997; Proctor et al. …