Why Not Have Future Teachers Gain Experience Before College?

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To the Editor:

The drumbeat of teacher bashing from the political right and in the press, within and outside the educational establishment, has produced a market correction in the supply of teachers.

We've known the trend for at least a decade: The downturn in the number of new teachers is outpacing the downturn in K-12 enrollments.

This dual downward trend gives us time to change the future-teacher paradigm. But "quickie," easy-to-get certification is not the answer. It takes one to three years for a new teacher to establish a reliable, effective classroom practice. Only a low percentage of "instant certification" teachers last that long.

We must dig deeper and start teacher development while future teachers are students in K-12 schools. No other complex field, including athletics and the arts, allows people into college majors without a critical review of their prior experience in the field and verified success in dealing with its basics.

Why not expect teaching experience prior to college? Why not require teacher wannabes to produce a teaching portfolio that includes letters of support from professional educators who have observed their work, tested their commitment, and mentored their growth? And why not a teaching audition?

The Hoenny Center for Research and Development in Teaching, which I lead, estimates that, in spite of the Future Educators Association and a few state and big-city bright spots, only about 14 percent of America's high schools have any type of future-teacher option for their students.

We can and must do better. Programs like Los Angeles' teaching academies, Missouri's A+ Tutoring program, and the Hoenny Center's YouthTeachUSA provide lengthy supervised engagement with actual teaching, where kids can feel the rewards of teaching others. That's where we'll get more dedicated, effective, savvy American teachers of the future. We need to start now.

J. Terry Gates
President and Chief Executive Officer
Hoenny Center for Research and Development in Teaching
St. Louis, Mo.

Vol. 34, Issue 14, Page 22

Published in Print: December 10, 2014, as Why Not Have Future Teachers Gain Experience Before College?
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