Starting at the Source

By Blassingame, Kelley M. | Techniques, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Starting at the Source


Blassingame, Kelley M., Techniques


Across the nation, state education departments are demanding that their high school graduates meet higher academic standards. Great for the future of America's students, but it can present a challenge for career and technical teacher educators, as they equip preservice teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to meet new goals.

At a time when school systems are increasing their academic standards, attention has naturally turned to increasing teacher quality--and ensuring that new teachers are prepared to teach in an academically challenging environment. "To prepare the next generation of teachers, we must turn to the presidents of our great colleges and universities for leadership," U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley said in his annual State of American Education Speech in February.

The National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE), through its 1998 Teacher Initiative, is helping some universities answer this call by providing grants to enhance career and technical teacher education programs. Schools use the resources for curriculum integration projects with academic disciplines and work- and school-based learning.

"The goal is to enhance institutional capacity by allowing deans, department heads and interdisciplinary faculty teams to re-examine their current system and develop a new vision for teacher education," the project's abstract says. Virginia Tech and the University of California-Berkeley were the first to participate in the initiative. Both universities created the avenues preservice teachers need to make connections with industries and academic disciplines related to concepts in their vocational concentration.

"What's [wrong with] schools is they are so departmentalized," says Patricia Kelly, director of teacher education at Virginia Tech. "It's important for teachers to be able to share ideas across content areas."

Berkeley and Virginia Tech are bridging the gap between disciplines and are preparing their preservice teachers in a way that other colleges of education are likely to emulate.

Funding fosters collaboration

Students at Narrows High School, a rural school in Narrows, Va., are learning about hydroponics--the growth of plants using water and chemicals rather than soil. But it's not just the agriculture class participating in this hands-on curriculum--as is often the case. The biology and chemistry classes have joined in, too. This academic-technical connection came to be through a grant program for student teachers at Virginia Tech. Federally funded through NCRVE's Teacher Initiative, the program provides grants of up to $300 to preservice teachers who team up on interdisciplinary projects that link academic and technical education at their student teaching sites.

Kelly and Curtis Finch, a Virginia Tech site director for NCRVE, wrote the original grant that got the university into the NCRVE program last fall. The grant allows Virginia Tech's preservice teachers to pursue interdisciplinary projects at a new level, Kelly says. "We had already started bringing teachers together, and thought [the initiative] was a good idea to help further our efforts."

Virginia Tech's first step was to hold a conference last September that brought together technical and academic teachers from different experience levels. At the conference, the university's vocational and academic preservice teachers met with veteran teachers from local high schools and teachers in the High Schools that Work program. High Schools that Work, sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), aims to combine academic and career and technical studies to raise student achievement.

While preservice teachers at Virginia Tech often collaborate across disciplines on topics like classroom management, last fall's conference allowed them to concentrate solely on curriculum integration.

"Groups of teachers and student teachers planned an integration project, then came back and reported back to everyone else about that idea. …

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