Training The Teachers
by Scott Bittle
A major new report this week calls for turning teacher-education programs "upside down," inspired by medical schools, to focus more on "clinical" experience in the classroom. Eight states have already agreed to adopt the recommendations from the panel, set up by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.
But what do new teachers themselves think about how well they're prepared for that first day of school? Based on research by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates, there may be a major gap between the way reformers and teachers see teacher education. Our survey of first-year teachers showed that most feel they're well prepared for the classroom – but there's a significant difference depending on the kind of classroom they face.
In our Lessons Learned series of surveys of new teachers, eight in 10 said they felt "very prepared" (42 percent) or at least "somewhat prepared" for the classroom. Almost all said their coursework included classes on children's development, and roughly half said those courses helped "a lot" in the classroom. Nearly seven in 10 said their training in direct instruction helped "a lot."
Where their training failed them most, however, was in dealing with ethnically and racially diverse classrooms. Only 39 percent of new teachers thought their training helped "a lot" there. (One of the recommendations is more structured training in diverse settings).
There's also a notable difference between elementary and secondary teachers. More than half of high school and middle school teachers (53 percent) say their training was too theoretical, compared to just 4 in 10 elementary teachers. High school and middle school teachers were also less confident their students were responding to their efforts.
So as we overhaul teacher training to focus more on the classroom, there may need to be more dialogue with teachers on the need for change and new approaches and more thinking from experts on how to help teachers be effective in the classroom situations they find most challenging.