Teachers Suggest the Need for Better Training

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Policymakers voicing concern over the quality of classroom instruction shouldn't hear much disagreement from the nation's teachers, if the results of a new federal survey are any indication.

Teachers themselves feel ill-prepared to meet many of the challenges they face and, the report shows, are hungry for better training and support. The findings, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a prepared statement as he released them last week, "confirm our dramatic need to get serious about better preparing for and supporting teachers."

The report, "Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers," is the first of what his department promises will become a biennial measure of teacher attitudes.

Based on a survey mailed last year to a scientifically selected sample of 4,049 elementary, middle, and high school teachers, the study examines their views on the adequacy of their professional development and other training and on how well matched they are to their teaching assignments.

For More Information

"Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers" is available free from the U.S. Department of Education, (877) 433-7828. The results also may be viewed on the World Wide Web at

Among the findings:

  • No more than 20 percent of the respondents considered themselves "very well-prepared" to integrate educational technology into their instruction. They expressed the same low level of confidence about meeting the needs of students with disabilities and those whose English is limited.
  • About 28 percent felt very well-prepared to use student-performance-assessment techniques effectively. About 41 percent said they felt the same way generally about putting new teaching methods into practice; 36 percent said the same about implementing new curriculum standards.

A Single Day

The survey results suggest some of the reasons why so few of the teachers considered themselves amply prepared. In many areas of professional development, the typical respondent participated in eight hours or less per year.

"That's one day," said Barnett Barry, who directs the Southeastern regional office of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. "Ask any Fortune 500 company what would be their annual allotment for professional development. It will boggle your imagination when compared to that figure."

Indeed, the report shows that the teachers who received more professional development tended to feel better prepared.

In addition, while 70 percent of those who had been mentored by another teacher said the experience significantly improved their teaching, fewer than one-fifth have received such guidance.

While it points up the need for better programs to support teachers, the educators' trepidation is a healthy sign, said Judith A. R‚nyi, who directs the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, a research and professional support effort endowed by the National Education Association.

"This is saying to me that they are fully aware of how complicated and difficult these things are, and there's a long way to go before they feel fully comfortable doing it," she said. "We are asking them now to do things that have not been done before. There is absolutely zippo out there on how to implement standards in the classroom."

Vol. 18, Issue 21, Page 12

Published in Print: February 3, 1999, as Teachers Suggest the Need for Better Training
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