Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

What Do Beginning Teachers Need to Know? an Essay

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

What Do Beginning Teachers Need to Know? an Essay

Article excerpt

In The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Jonathan Kozol (2005) described two school systems that operate in America. In one system, materials and facilities are adequate, if not state of the start, and learning is paramount. In the other system, students go to largely impoverished schools with "an openly conceded emulation of the rigorous approaches of the military" and a "relentless emphasis on raising test scores" through robotic means of instruction (Kozol, 2005, p. 64). The challenge of asking the question What do beginning teachers need to know and be able to do? lies in knowing in which of these two systems the teacher will teach. We argue that context matters and that beginning teachers have to be prepared to teach in the schools they will encounter.

A related and more difficult matter is knowing what support and learning will be provided for program graduates when they begin to teach. As long as most school systems expect beginning teachers to perform at a level comparable to most experienced practitioners, teacher educators face almost impossible expectations, particularly in abbreviated programs that are often underfinanced and of low status at their universities. We find it unfair to talk of beginning teachers as "finished products." We wonder if it is realistic to expect beginning teachers will have all the knowledge and skill of an experienced teacher and will be capable of assuming full responsibility for a group of learners on their 1st day of practice. Given the complexity of classroom teaching, and in recognition of the way other professionals are inducted and socialized into practice, we wonder if it is more reasonable to expect teacher educators will prepare "novice practitioners" who will "do no harm." The process of preparation, even for the latter set of expectations, is an extended one involving seamless transitions between preparation and practice where university faculty and experienced teachers collaborate to ensure beginning teachers thrive and grow.

Education faculties that avoid addressing such questions and realities of working conditions fail to serve either the interests of their students or those who employ them in their early years of practice. What makes these questions so difficult to answer is the chasm that too often exists between university and school. Although teacher educators insist that two generations of effort at partnership and collaboration, internship, and induction have bridged this divide, our experience suggests that policy makers and K-12 practitioners continue to see teaching and teacher education as separate and unequal. The reason for this is that unlike medicine or law, school boards and school principals (with the acquiescence of teacher educators and the encouragement of teacher unions) assign novice practitioners the most difficult students, in the most difficult schools, with the least support. It would be considerate if new teachers were treated as novice practitioners "ready to learn" with reduced assignments, limited expectations, and supportive mentoring. Yet in too many situations, new teachers can expect to have more challenging pupils, more "class preps" than their veteran colleagues, and little reduction in committee assignments or extracurricular demands.

To answer the question What do beginning teachers need to know? one has to address a number of related questions: Who are the teacher educators? Where do they work? Are they clinical professionals or research scholars? Do they see teacher education as segmented and hierarchical (i.e., preservice as university-centered and inservice as school-centered) or continuous and shared between school and university? Do schools and school districts expect finished products or do they have the capacity and resources to provide continuous professional development? Will program graduates "transition" from novice practitioner to skilled professional through well-resourced induction and internship programs (including professional development schools) or will they be expected to learn independently with few prompts or little guidance? …

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