Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Preparation Programs and Nontraditional Students

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Preparation Programs and Nontraditional Students

Article excerpt

In the past 20 years, American colleges have had an increase in the number of students over 25 years of age. From 1979 to 1983, nontraditional students attending colleges grew by 52% (DeBlois, 1993). In 1995, 42% of the 12.2 million undergraduates were 25 years or older (Bendixen-Noe & Redick, 1995). These changes raise questions of how best to recruit, retain, and graduate this population.

Little research has focused on this cohort of teacher education students in regard to policy formulation. Only recently has a demographic study of alternative teacher certification programs been completed (Feistritzer & Chester, 1996). Few studies have centered on needs assessment procedures for nontraditional students (Bendixen-Noe & Redick, 1995; Bray, 1995; DeBlois, 1993; McCormick, 1995). Little information exists on the use of focus groups and surveys designed for nontraditional teacher education students. Open lines of communication among students, faculty, and college administrators are crucial to successful programmatic implementation.

Population Trends

Many teacher education programs have nontraditional students (Feistritzer & Chester, 1996; Neapolitan, 1996) including career changers, former teachers returning for current or expanded certification, older students seeking degrees and certification, early retirees from the military or other fields, delayed entrants updating their certification, minority students recruited with corporate funds, and teacher aides seeking to upgrade their job classification (Bray, 1995; Feistritzer, 1996). These subgroups are a unique interest group for teacher education programs.

Researchers have identified many distinct characteristics of nontraditional teacher education students. Attitudinal differences are one of the unique qualities nontraditional students exhibit. They include the following features:

* A realistic approach in their expectations about workplace conditions (DeBlois, 1993)

* Relationship patterns with faculty, fellow teachers, and fellow students different from those of traditional students (DeBlois, 1993)

* Higher levels of self-confidence and lower levels of task concerns related to job placement among nontraditional students with previous full-time professional positions (Bray, 1995)

* More self-assurance in their ability to handle class discipline, especially among those who have patented (Bray, 1995; DeBlois, 1993)

* More self-assurance in their ability to work with fellow teachers and administrators (DeBlois, 1993)

Many nontraditional students are managing family, full-time employment, and commuting schedules (American Association of College Teacher Educators, 1997). Logistical concerns include the following:

* Nontraditional students face potential financial loss due to attaining long-desired goals. These losses are the hidden costs of entering the profession at mid-career (AACTE, 1997).

* Marriage and family concerns demand a larger part of their time. One study found that two thirds of nontraditional students were married and over half have children (Feistritzer & Chester, 1996).

* Most are local residents and will teach within 150 miles of where they were born (Feistritzer & Chester, 1996).

Nontraditional students consequently often have little interest or time for the frills of college social life. They tend to focus on academics and need college services at extended office times (McCormick, 1995).

Although significant differences exist between traditional and nontraditional teacher education students, there are also important similarities. Nontraditional teacher candidates reflect the American teacher population. Nearly 89% are White (Feistritzer, 1996). The majority are female, although higher percentages of male students are in urban populations. Thirty percent hold bachelors degrees in fields other than education and report that they were engaged in fields other than education prior to teaching full-time (Feistritzer & Chester, 1996). …

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