Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Playing It Safe as a Novice Teacher: Implications for Programs for New Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Playing It Safe as a Novice Teacher: Implications for Programs for New Teachers

Article excerpt

Many published calls for reforming schools and teaching end with a challenge to preservice preparation programs that goes something like this, "Teacher preparation programs should require that their students be able to --." The blank is then filled with a knowledge, skill, or affective component that summarizes the focus of the article or the research. For example, the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) (1995) called for preservice programs to do more with computer technology. Cummins (1989), Nieto (1996), and Sleeter and Grant (1988) called for preservice programs to prepare students to teach in ways that accommodate cultural and linguistic diversity. Content organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (2000) provide standards and examples that encourage new ways of teaching mathematics. A recent issue of the Journal of Teacher Education (Vol. 52, No. 3) was devoted to the connections between reform in teacher education and school improvement. Indeed, preservice teacher education is viewed by many as a hopeful force for changing teaching practice in America's schools and improving teaching and learning for all students.

Many educators recognize, however, that one cannot make a simplistic assumption that efforts at the preservice level automatically result in the opportunity for, or the encouragement of, newly graduated teachers to put their fledgling ideas about innovative teaching into actual practice. More realistic suggestions were made by the Holmes Group (1995) and John Goodlad (1994). Both called for the creation of some form of partnership between schools and universities that would privilege the simultaneous improvement of both school teaching and learning and university teaching and learning. The grants awarded under Title II of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act mandate that university-based teacher education programs work in partnership with schools housing large numbers of students who are academically "at risk." The goal is simultaneously to improve teacher education and student achievement in these schools. Each of these echoes the call found in the comprehensive report by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future report (1996) to think of educational improvement as "an entire tapestry that is tightly interwoven" (p. 116).

In this article, we explore one part of the tapestry envisioned by educators and policy makers, those threads that represent novice teachers during their 1st year of practice. We base our exploration on a study of the beginning teachers' expressed needs for support and professional development as they participated in a regional partnership. This partnership, composed of a university and two regional offices of education, was created to provide new teachers with a forum for continuing their education in an environment that linked those responsible for preservice education (the university staff) with those who were charged with continuing professional development (the regional office staff and school district staff).


Our home state of Illinois (like many states) makes a distinction between teachers new to the profession and those who are experienced. In 1998, the Illinois General Assembly created a tiered licensing system in which novice teachers would be issued an "initial" teaching certificate and would need to pass some (as yet undefined) assessment before receiving a "standard" teaching certificate. Although the law specifies this assessment be made prior to the standard license's being awarded, it does not refer to any support, either structural or fiscal, for the novice teachers to succeed during their first 4 years or to work toward passing the assessment. Thus, the state is creating a high-stakes evaluation of the most difficult time in a teacher's career without building in any safety net for these teachers.

This situation is troubling to all of us who are involved with teaching teachers, whether we are university-based educators, members of teachers unions, administrators, or professional development specialists. …

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