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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Can Pre-Service Teachers Meet the Demands of the Teaching Profession?

By Peter DeWitt — September 29, 2011 4 min read
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It doesn’t matter whether you teach in a suburban, urban, or rural school setting, we are seeing many students enter school with diverse academic, social, and economic needs. Perhaps they have a vocabulary or language deficit that puts them behind their peers, or they lack the maturity that allows them to fit in socially; schools have been playing the role of caregiver and educator in the lives of children for decades.

Given all of the student needs that schools are seeing, in addition to all of the new mandates with the common core standards, evaluation and high-stakes testing, are colleges preparing pre-service teachers to become high-quality teachers who can handle our rapidly changing needs? Is it fair to believe that teachers without any experience are prepared to educate our student population?

We all understand that we gain a great deal of knowledge through experience. Our students gain a better understanding of the world around them through experiences. Whether that means going on field trips, being exposed to music, art, or literature that they have never seen before, or engaged through the lessons of an outstanding teacher, experience is what sets students apart from one another.

Philosophy vs. Practical Knowledge
It is very important for colleges to expose undergraduate or graduate-level students to important philosophy. College education programs offer students the necessary philosophical information needed to learn about a child’s developmental level.

In addition, schools offer the philosophies of educational experts like Howard Gardner, Carol Ann Tomlinson, Charlotte Danielson, and others who provide great practical advice. They need to learn the best instructional practices and understand child psychology in order to meet the needs of our diverse student populations. In order to teach students, you must understand what is age-appropriate and how to best meet their needs and bring them up to another achievement level.

However, in order to truly meet their needs, you must have exposure to as many real-life situations as possible, which means that our pre-service teachers must get into the classroom. Getting into the classroom to observe a teacher in action is an important part of a pre-service teacher’s development. However, pre-service teachers should also ask classroom teachers if they can teach a few lessons. In my experience, I have seen many pre-service teachers sitting at the back of the table watching veteran teachers interact with their students.

Colleges should consider the following:

  • Make sure competent pre-service teachers are being sent into the classroom
  • A series of bad student teaching experiences have the potential to hurt relationships between the school system and the college
  • Pre-service teachers need to be exposed to philosophy and practical educational practices
  • Communication between colleges and the school system is a key component in an effective student-teaching program
  • Students completing observation hours need to be exposed to urban, suburban, and rural school settings

Schools Systems Can Be a Valuable Part of the Process
If we want to hire the best teachers to put with our students, then we must work to establish important relationships with our pre-service teachers and the colleges they come from. Too often, we agree to take in student-teachers, but we move on to another task and leave the classroom teacher to work alone with the student-teacher. Administrators could take a couple of simple steps to help out in the process.

  • Very often students have to do observation hours, but all they do is observe. Allowing pre-service teachers to teach a lesson or two would help them gain experience.
  • Student-teachers are often apprehensive about talking with principals. If principals have the time, they should introduce themselves to student-teachers.
  • Constructive feedback is an important part of teaching; principals should reach out and offer to do an informal observation of the visiting student-teacher.
  • Principals could offer an exit interview to student-teachers to talk about the interviewing process or answer questions about how school systems work.
  • As a principal, I have offered to do exit interviews with our student-teachers, but many have not taken me up on the offer. Student-teaching is an opportunity for pre-service teachers to establish professional relationships with staff so it is a mistake for them to ignore the offer by a principal.

Sadly, there is a disconnection between many colleges and the public school system. Many schools are on a “don’t call” list, which means they do not want to be contacted by colleges. Colleges often contact schools, ask for cooperating teachers, and the school systems agree to take the student-teachers in for eight or nine weeks. Both parties do not always take the opportunity to form a bond, which is unfortunate because they lose out on important opportunities.

Some school systems are working with colleges by being “Professional Development” schools. A group of veteran teachers in the same grade levels offer to take a group of pre-service teachers, a college supervisor spends quality time in the school system, and the college offers professional development opportunities to the school staff. This relationship offers many reciprocal benefits to both parties.

We have to meet so many demands in public education, and I understand trying to create a deeper bond with colleges and universities is another thing to add to the list. However, it is highly important to the future of education if administrators and teachers work closely with pre-service teachers and the colleges they are coming from. If we want the best teachers to enter our schools, we need to do our part to help them when they are at the pre-service level.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.