Voices of Beginning Teachers: Do Paths to Preparation Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

The importance of good teaching is one of few areas of consensus in current educational debates. There is no significant educational goal whose attainment does not require a growing number of highly capable teachers. However, the debate in the United States about how best to develop an increasing supply of quality teachers has increasingly rejected traditional teacher training in which candidates receive pedagogical foundations followed by supervised student teaching, in favor of alternative pathways to teacher certification. While alternative pathways vary in design, scope, and requirements they typically reduce course requirements in pedagogical preparation and place post-baccalaureate candidates in charge of classrooms during their training period (Rosenberg, Boyer, Sindelar, & Misra, 2007).

Teacher quality is inextricably tied to every aspect of school and student learning (Berry, 2010). In the No Child Left Behind Act (U. S. Department of Education, 2002). Congress defines highly qualified teachers as individuals who not only possess full state certification but also have solid content knowledge. According to the U.S. Secretary of Education (Office of Postsecondary Education, 2002), solid verbal abilities and content knowledge are highlighted as the most important criteria in identifying "highly qualified teachers." In addition, a large body of research has examined the relationship between teaching and subsequent student learning. For example, good teachers are also skilled in teacher-student interactions, instructional decision making, engaging students of diverse abilities and backgrounds, and classroom management (Jones & Jones, 2010; Sleeter & Grant, 2007). Since students respond in widely divergent ways to learning environments, curriculum, and instructional procedures, highly competent teachers engage in using layered decision trees and complex strategies to assess and construct effective learning processes for all of their students (Kozleski, Sobel, & Taylor, 2003).

The problem of teacher preparation has become acute as the national government has raised the stakes for student learning at the same time that the supply and retention of highly qualified teachers is in question (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003). Do differences in preparation matter? In particular, how do beginning teachers who have experienced very different approaches to professional preparation perceive their training and its relationship to the demands of teaching? Rosenberg, Boyer, Sindelar, and Misra (2007) maintain little is known about how different types of teacher education programs contribute to teacher supply, retention, or quality. Maier and Youngs (2009) also note a lack of studies exploring how teachers' preparation programs affect teachers' initial decisions about where to teach. Research on beginning teachers has detected significant differences in the perceptions of graduates of extended, formal teacher preparation programs in contrast to teachers entering the classroom through alternative licensure (Darling-Hammond, Chung & Frelow, 2002; Junor Clarke & Thomas, 2009). In a survey of 2,956 teachers in New York City with four or fewer years in the classroom, Darling-Hammond et al. (2002) found that graduates of professional preparation programs felt more prepared to promote student learning, teach critical thinking, understand learners, and develop instructional leadership than teachers without formal preparation. However, surveys have not asked teachers to elaborate on how particular aspects of their professional program prepared them for the realities of the classroom.

To further examine these issues, we interviewed beginning teachers from three preparation models regarding their perceptions of their first through second years of teaching. We acknowledge that there can be extreme differences even within each of the three types of programs. The three that we chose, however, do seem to be fairly typical examples of each type of program. …