Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

"On the Run, in the Real": Teacher Candidates Describe Their Year in an Immersion Preparation Program

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

"On the Run, in the Real": Teacher Candidates Describe Their Year in an Immersion Preparation Program

Article excerpt

  "It's the difference between looking in a book and it says,
  'This is Africa; it has some elephants and some trees and some
  wildlife.' In a picture the elephant is going toward the camera.
  But it's a totally different thing when the elephant is charging
  toward you and his ears are flopping and dust is coming everywhere.
  You run or you got to do something physically. I think that's one
  of the things that most people need to know is that it's so real.
  ... You get opportunities to feel and know if you want to do it
  or not."

  --Middle school teacher candidate

Increasing interest in improving the quality of teacher preparation has led to the creation of many new approaches--professional development school partnerships with school districts, alternative routes to certification, and programs such as Teach for America.

But how do new teacher candidates make sense of their experiences in a redesigned preparation program?

Together, we have been part of the development of two redesigned teacher preparation programs in Massachusetts:

* 180 Days in Springfield project, an immersion teacher preparation program jointly conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Springfield (Massachusetts) Public Schools.

* Bridges to the Future, jointly conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and four school districts in rural Franklin County.

In these programs, talented college graduates and mid-career changers with bachelor's degrees in English, mathematics, the sciences, or history teach for a year in a high school or middle school classroom while earning their master's degrees and teacher licenses.

180 Days is now in its 13th year; Bridges in its 5th. More than 200 new middle and high school educators have completed their teacher preparation through these programs. In this time when teacher preparation is being reconsidered from many standpoints, 180 Days and Bridges are hybrid models, combining features of alternative and traditional teacher preparation programs.

Like urban teacher residency programs, Teach for America, and other alternative teacher preparation programs, 180 Days and Bridges place participants directly in schools to learn the art and craft of teaching through actual classroom teaching experiences. Proponents of alternative pathways to teaching contend that bypassing university-based programs that have intensive education course requirements will allow qualified individuals to enter the classroom more easily (Newman 2009; Peterson and Nadler 2009). Such teacher residency programs are a key education reform idea being considered by the Obama Administration (Editorial Projects in Education 2009).

Unlike alternative programs, 180 Days and Bridges participants take master's degree and teacher-license courses in middle and high school teaching, subject-area teaching methods, adolescent growth and development, instructional technology, urban/rural education, lesson planning, and student assessment--all within the structure of a university program jointly taught by higher education faculty and public school teachers. Many researchers contend that programs from colleges and universities that have met rigorous accreditation standards from NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) offer the best assurance that highly-qualified teachers are entering the classroom (Darling-Hammond and Bransford 2005; Cochran-Smith and Zeichner 2005; NCATE 2005).

IMMERSION AND TENSION

Participants in "on the run/in the real" immersion in teaching tell us that the intensity of immersion produces tensions and complexities that disrupt, but also propel candidates as they transition from novice educator to classroom-ready teacher. These tensions arise in five areas:

* Attitudes toward students;

* Professional relationships;

* Teaching and learning practices;

* Leadership and voice; and

* Commitment to teaching. …

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