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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

What Should We Expect Preservice Teachers to Know?

By Peter DeWitt — May 22, 2016 6 min read
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It’s May, which means that scores of pre-service teachers have graduated and are spending their days and nights looking for jobs. Perhaps some of them found teaching positions before they graduated, while others are searching job postings on-line and making their rounds to schools in their area.

For those of you who remember those months leading up to your first teaching position, you most likely remember being really excited and a bit intimidated all at once. No longer were you working with a net like when you student taught, and it was up to you to decide what goes on the walls. Professionally made products from the teacher store? Or, wait until the students come in and they make everything...or a combination of both?

Perhaps it’s because I’m older, and have been on the receiving end of some student teachers who were not doing a stellar job when they student taught in the building where I was a principal for 8 years, but I wonder if pre-service teachers are as prepared for today’s classroom as they may believe. Although what goes on the walls is important, there are many other parts of teaching that are more important.

Education is much more complicated than it was when I was a young teacher.

There are mandates and accountability, and of course...state testing. Even if a new teacher doesn’t teach in a grade level that has to negotiate their way through state testing, the pressure to make sure all students perform is definitely on them...and it should be. Those pre-service teachers...or their parents...spent big money to send them to college. They should be walking out somewhat prepared. After all, soon they will be standing in front...or side by side with...a group of students that they will be spending quality time with for the new school year.

Were they properly prepared in their college prep program?

There are many topics that college professors in teacher prep programs have to cover (and do it quite well) to help prepare these pre-service teachers to have a positive impact on their students someday.

Those are:
Whole Child - It’s far bigger than just an initiative by ASCD and my friend and co-author Sean Slade (School Climate Change). Whole Child is a call to action. We must remember that we are doing more than helping them grow academically. We are all charged with helping students grow social-emotional as well. Make sure your students get brain breaks, flexible spaces, time to move around, and recess. Don’t take away recess from the young ones because you’re trying to discipline them...that will only make the behavior worse. No child should be without recess.

Don’t talk so much - Researcher Janet Clinton out of the University of Melbourne (Australia) has found through extensive research in the Visible Classroom that teachers ask over 200 questions per day while students ask, on average, two questions per student per week. Increase the dialogue in the classroom. No, that doesn’t mean you randomly yell out, “Talk amongst yourselves!” It means that students understand learning intentions and success criteria, and that the teachers inspires dialogue among students around those two very important parts of learning.

Instructional vs. Non-instructional Time - Instructional coaching expert Jim Knight, someone I work with as an instructional coaching trainer advises that coaches list how many times (or counts how many minutes) a teacher spends on instructional time vs. non-instructional time. That time spent on non-instructional (and usually disciplinary) time means that valuable time that could be spent on learning gets lost.

Video Yourself - Let’s get this out of the way first, because some people will be angry that I’m suggesting videoing yourself during this time of high accountability. First and foremost, new teachers don’t have to show it to anyone, but they do have to watch it themselves. This is another one of Jim Knight’s suggestions, which I think is important. We don’t always see what is happening in the classroom, and we don’t always understand how we react to different students. Video yourself for 15 minutes, and watch it at least 3 times. John Hattie calls it micro-teaching and it has a .88 effect size which is well above the hinge point of .40 which means a years worth of growth for a year’s input.

Focus on learning - John Hattie, who I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, wrote the Politics of Distraction, and in the very important research paper he said that we spend way too much time talking about adult issues in school. Make sure that, as a new teacher, you spend most of your time talking about learning...especially with your colleagues, principal and in the faculty room.

Communicate with parents and not at them - I think we spend far too much time telling parents what they need to be doing at home, and not enough time talking with them about what their goals are for their children. We tend to think that just because a parent doesn’t have an advanced degree...or that they are living in poverty, that they don’t have goals for their children. They do! Find out what those goals are, and make sure you make at least 5 positive phone calls home every week. That would be one per day, and imagine how awesome it would be to end your day making a positive phone call.

Can’t always find it in a textbook - We need to make sure that new teachers know what to teach next, and not because it comes on the next page in a textbook. Understand what you’re teaching and why you’re teaching, and then find engaging activities in places that aren’t in a textbook.

No death by ditto - We have spent too many years killing too many trees and the hopes and dreams of our students by using worksheets. Sometimes, well most times, an engaging activity or a great conversation is much more powerful than a worksheet.

Collecting evidence - Teachers need to know that what they are using as instructional strategies are working with their students. Through formative assessment (read this one by Shirley Clarke!) and other activities that result in qualitative and quantitative measures, teachers can effectively collect the evidence to show that they are having an impact.

Expectations matter - I’m not going to go with any coin phrases here. It seems like common sense that expectations matter, but it’s harder than you think. Sometimes we worry so much about what kind of life a child goes home to that we lower our expectations for them because we feel sorry for them. Other times we have such high expectations that we have set the bar too high and students become frustrated with us and give up. Hattie often talks about the Goldilock’s Principle...we must have expectations that are not to soft...not too hard...but just right.

In the End
Teaching is hard work, and those teachers who make it look easy have done an extraordinary amount of work before and after the students come in the classroom to make it look as easy as it does. It takes a great deal of trial and error, risk-taking, researching, and a mentality that helps foster growth in your students and yourself to become a great teacher.

For some, striving to be a great teacher seemed to have started when they were a child or adolescent using a chalkboard downstairs with their siblings, or working at summer camps every summer during high school and college, or spending hundreds of hours doing classroom observation and finishing up with a semester of student teaching. However, that was just the foundation.

Now the real work has begun...

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) , Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), and GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network would like to learn more about the needs of those who are helping to educate our new teachers. If you are a teacher educator, please consider taking this anonymous survey that you can find here. The survey is completely anonymous and survey participants can enter a drawing for a chance to win one of five $100 Amazon.com gift certificates or one free conference registration for the 2017 AACTE Annual Meeting.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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.