Primed to Teach: How the Top Teaching Colleges Prepare Students for Today's Classrooms

By Lacey, Kylie | District Administration, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Primed to Teach: How the Top Teaching Colleges Prepare Students for Today's Classrooms


Lacey, Kylie, District Administration


Hiring and retaining talented teachers can be a challenge in any district. But finding recent teaching college graduates who are ready to excel in the classroom their very first year can be even more difficult.

This leaves administrators continuing to question whether college teaching programs are adequately preparing each new generation of educators.

A successful prep program should be rigorous and purposeful, and get student-teachers into actual classrooms earlier rather than later, says Hamlet Hernandez, superintendent of Branford Public Schools in Connecticut and member of the District Administration Leadership Institute. "Early and consistent classroom experience allows teacher students to see the role of management, routines and rituals in practice, and cannot be accomplished in a two-week field experience," he says.

New teachers have historically struggled to manage their classrooms, says Hernandez. "Prep programs do not emphasize behavior management--the practice of recognizing how to mitigate different behaviors for different age groups."

New teachers must be to able to precisely assess students' ability to learn. They must also understand that students come to the classroom with different abilities, says Hernandez. "It is important for new teachers to know how to differentiate teaching practices, such as providing highly visual cues and clues for ELL students," he says.

The colleges that produce successful teachers require early and frequent clinical work, integrate technology and set high standards for admission and grading.

Setting clear standards

Teachers-in-training must complete a preparation program during their undergraduate or post-grad master's studies. States have different requirements for the level of education that must be completed; most require a student teaching experience and passage of a certification test.

Montclair State University in New Jersey produces effective teachers because its standards are clearly defined, says Susan Taylor, director of the Newark-Montclair Urban Teacher Residency. Taylor's program pairs Montclair State teaching students with Newark Public Schools mentor teachers and classrooms.

The university's "Portrait of a Teacher" standards list 12 pieces of knowledge, skills and dispositions every graduate must develop. Included in the portrait is creating learning experiences that promote critical thinking and problem-solving; appreciating diversity among students and colleagues; and possessing strong literacy and communication skills.

When student-teachers practice job interviews or write essays, they must be guided by "Portrait" principles such as demonstrating expert knowledge of the discipline they will teach and promoting communication in the classroom.

The standards have made Montclair State's student-teachers popular with local districts. Over the past five years, more than 100 of the student-teachers have been hired and retained by a local district, says Jennifer Robinson, director of the university's Center Of Pedagogy. Administrators get to know the candidates during their student teaching assignments and therefore have insight into their performance that cannot be gained when a random teacher comes in seeking a job.

"The student-teaching experience is like a 14-week job interview with highly effective candidates for the schools," Robinson says.

The program at Western Governors University in Utah meets or exceeds every state's standards for teacher prep to ensure all graduates are qualified to teach in any district in the nation.

The curriculum is competency-based, meaning graduates must demonstrate they have mastered each standard before they advance. Instead of earning credit hours and grades for a specific course taken during a set period of time, students take an assessment when they feel they have mastered a certain skill. "If a student takes tests and does homework and gets a B in a specific course, what that represents is ambiguous," says Paul Schmidt, dean of the Teachers College. …

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