Preparing Teachers for Tomorrow's Classrooms

Article excerpt

State legislatures are examining whether or not new teachers are well prepared to help all students meet high standards.

New teachers leaving the confines of the university for the day-to-and day rigors of teaching face a reality check. Challenging students and difficult classrooms make teaching a tougher job than many expect.

"There needs to be more hands-on classroom management in the teacher prep courses in college," new teachers told the U.S. Department of Education as part of creating a survival guide for new teachers. "My professors hadn't been in a K-12 classroom for more than 10 years." It is no wonder that two-thirds of new teachers do not feel well prepared to interpret student assessment information and to use state or district performance standards.

These criticisms along with impending teacher shortages are propelling legislative discussions on how prospective teachers are trained.

Despite a historical reluctance to legislate in the area of teacher preparation, lawmakers are enacting state policies to hold schools of education accountable and changing what is taught by altering licensing requirements for new teachers and revamping program accreditation.

TEACHING TEACHERS TO TEACH

The nation's 1,300 schools of education have been roundly criticized over the years for both the quality and quantity of their graduates. Many critics point to the low SAT scores of prospective teachers who enter schools of education as an indication of their inability to attract the best and brightest. They point to training that is too focused on how to teach rather than what to teach, and a poor record of preparing educators in the most difficult-to-staff subjects.

"I feel the colleges of education are not doing a very good job," says Florida House Education Committee Chair Jerry Melvin. "They are turning out teachers with general knowledge, but not with in-depth knowledge in core subjects. Many recent graduates tell me they spend too much time on the 'touchy-feely' courses."

Iowa House Education Chair Betty Grund-berg is more upbeat. "Iowa's institutions are doing an excellent job of preparing teachers. Because of the quality of Iowa graduates, our students are being recruited nationwide." Representative Grundberg, though, says that "not all institutions have the same quality graduates," a point which Representative Melvin also makes. "To me there is no consistency. We must speak to this subject and make sure that when someone graduates from one university or the other, we can be assured that the individual is properly educated to teach in our schools. Some colleges and universities are known as diploma mills, yet no one seems to want to get involved in changing them."

Missouri Senator Steve Stoll views his state's preparation programs as having a "mixed record of success," but he acknowledges that "since the early 1990s, schools of education have made great strides by ensuring that prospective teachers get into real classrooms very early in their teacher training program."

"Schools of education have changed in major ways over the past decade," says Robert Yinger, dean of the School of Education at Baylor University and president of the Holmes Partnership, a network of reform-oriented universities, schools and community organizations.

Schools of education have increased the content of the majors prospective teachers choose, extended the field experiences student teachers receive and focused programs more on the knowledge and skills that are most linked to student learning. These changes, many initiated by the schools themselves, are due to an evolving body of research and standards for the profession. All states, having created standards for K-12 students, have now established standards for what teachers should know and be able to do. This has reshaped the design of many preparation programs.

However, these changes improve only the quality of prospective teachers, the numbers of graduating teachers are still inadequate. …