For several years, Miriam worked as a paraeducator in a self-contained
special education classroom. Everyone who encountered her knew she was
an asset to the school, based on the way she worked with students and the
professionalism she demonstrated every day in the school. She dressed for
the role of teacher, offered thoughtful and informed comments about stu-
dents, and took an active interest in the school. She was encouraged to com-
plete coursework to earn her special education endorsement. When she did
complete her degree a few years later, her principal offered her a teaching
contract for the next school year. Miriam is well respected for her knowl-
edge of students with special needs and of how to make appropriate accom-
modations for them. Most important, she uses her knowledge and expertise
daily to benefit the students with whom she works and serves as a resource
to the school's administration on issues related to special education.
There is a major educational debate today about how to recruit and prepare teachers. Many educators, policymakers, and taxpayers question whether traditional preservice programs prepare teachers who can maintain excellent instructional programs that increase student achievement. Alternative programs for recruiting and preparing teachers have been devised, giving rise to research comparing the effectiveness of teachers from different types of preparation backgrounds. Beyond the issue of pedagogical preparation, the question of content knowledge and its relevance to effective teaching remains a legitimate concern.
This chapter explores the research on teacher preparation and reviews what has been learned through extensive studies and research regarding the background of effective teachers. Each section of the chapter summarizes research findings related to a specific aspect of a teacher's background.