Faced with concerns that too many teachers are entering the profession unprepared to manage classrooms, some colleges of education have in recent years increased their focus on training aspiring educators to handle disruptive students.
New teachers, even if skilled in academic subjects and pedagogy, often find themselves grossly unprepared to deal with student misbehavior. Discipline issues are one of the primary reasons given for teacher attrition. In fact, a 2003 study by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington-based advocacy group, found that more than 25 percent of teachers who left the profession cited student discipline.
“Many teachers don’t stay beyond three years, and one of the reasons behind that is you have a behavior problem on the part of the students, and then you have a teacher who is ill-prepared in handling the students,” said Rosalind LaRocque, an assistant director of the American Federation of Teachers.
“We hear from teachers, and especially younger teachers, that classroom management is a huge challenge,” said Dina Hasiotis, the director of education policy for the Washington-based group Common Good, a legal-reform group that tracks student-discipline issues. Meanwhile, schools are getting larger and can be disorderly, she said.
Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education, or CRETE, is a program that trains teacher-candidates in classroom management. A partial list of concepts and skills it imparts includes:
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SOURCE: Tricia Jones, Temple University
While candidates for jobs in special education have traditionally been offered courses in classroom management, it is only in the past decade that colleges appear to have started responding to the need for more training for general education candidates as well.
One such program is a partnership between Cleveland State University and Temple University, in Philadelphia, called Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education, or CRETE. The program, whose creators say it is the first national undertaking to integrate sustained conflict-resolution training into a teacher-preparation program, offers five-day-long workshops to better prepare teacher-candidates for classroom-management issues they will face on the job.
At the University of Cincinnati, a mandatory classroom-management course has been built into each teacher education program since 2000.
Only Your Memories
Pamela Wise, a coach for the Coalition of Essential Schools Northwest/Small Schools Project in Seattle, Wash., spent 32 years as a teacher. She remembers that when she graduated from Portland State University in 1968 with a major in English and a minor in education, no courses in classroom management were offered to general education students.
“You only had your own memories of your high school classroom when you walked in as a classroom teacher,” she said.
On the other hand, Jill Ballou, who started her first job this year as a 6th grade teacher at John Eaton Elementary School in the District of Columbia, said she was required by her teacher program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., to take at least two specific classroom-management courses. She learned about creating responsive classrooms, recognizing diverse cultures and backgrounds, and identifying behavior-modification strategies, among other skills.
That training, she said, helped her greatly. “At our school, we certainly have a number of behavior issues,” she said.
Ms. Wise agrees that while a few schools appear to be doing a good job in training candidates in classroom management, not every teacher is coming into the classroom well prepared in the subject.
Experts say teacher colleges—as well as school districts—have traditionally lagged behind in responding to new challenges, such as the changing atmosphere in classrooms.
“I don’t think our education systems have caught up to the complexity of the social problems that children bring into schools,” said Greg Greicius, the senior vice president for educational initiatives for Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit group based in New York City that partners with some colleges and school districts, including New York, to train school personnel in responding to students’ academic and behavioral needs.
Clamoring for Help
But advocates for teacher colleges say the perception that colleges have been inactive in preparing new teachers in classroom management is wrong. For instance, they point out that all colleges seeking national accreditation are required or expected to include classroom-management training in their coursework.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education requires that teacher-candidates understand principles of effective classroom management as well as human motivation and behavior. NCATE accredits more than half the 1,200 teacher colleges and programs in the country.
“If you ask teacher-educators, classroom management would be one of the things they think they do the most preparation in,” said Carol Smith, the vice president for professional issues and partnerships at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which is also based in Washington.
A more recent trend, she said, is to embed classroom management prominently in candidates’ clinical experiences, so that the student-teachers make a connection between theory and practice.
But observers say the demand they see for classroom-management training among new teachers has not diminished, which suggests to them that candidates are still not being prepared adequately.
The AFT and its affiliates offer professional-development training, and both the national union and some locals now offer programs specifically aimed at helping new teachers grapple with classroom discipline.
“We still have more people clamoring for classroom-management training than ever before,” Ms. LaRocque said.
The growing demand for better teacher training in student discipline has spawned a number of groups that offer teacher colleges and school districts their expertise in preparing such courses.
The Classroom Organization and Management Program, or COMP, which was created by a now-retired professor at Vanderbilt University, has for a decade partnered with school districts, including Milwaukee. In recent years, officials of that Nashville, Tenn.-based organization say they have seen a surge of interest from colleges of education as well.
Inge Poole, a national trainer for COMP, said that more education professors have started attending their Training for Trainers workshops, which prepare them for crafting and implementing classroom-management courses.
The program offers research-based training, both for aspiring and full-fledged teachers, in such areas as maintaining good student behavior, managing student work, and planning and organizing. So far, 40 teacher-educators have attended those courses and gone on to set up programs in classroom management at their own universities, officials said.
A Stimulating Environment
Those who run programs that offer comprehensive classroom-management programs say the focus today is not just on dealing with difficult students, but also on fostering an atmosphere that promotes collaborative learning.
William S. Newby, an academic adviser and lecturer at the education college at Cleveland State University, said one of the topics he deals with in the CRETE workshop he teaches is helping teacher-candidates understand how they can develop a collaborative classroom.
“This involves learning how to hold classroom meetings to address classroom problems,” Mr. Newby said. “In meetings, students are invited to take some ownership over classroom rules and procedures, learning goals, and ways of better working together.
“The classroom experience then becomes more of a team experience,” he said, “and many potential discipline problems are resolved through peer influence.”
During clinical experiences, too, student discipline is one of the elements that field supervisors address in their observations of student-teachers and in follow-up conferences with teacher-candidates, Mr. Newby added.
Candidates at the University of Cincinnati take mandatory classroom-management courses tailored to special education, middle school education, and the like.
“We found our students knew a lot, they knew the content, but it doesn’t help much if you don’t come in with a working knowledge of the system in a classroom,” said Anne Bauer, the NCATE coordinator at the university.
“We needed courses, depending on the individual program, that really helped students develop a classroom-management plan: What are the routines they are going to have; what are the strategies they are going to use to engage everybody?” she said. “Because when students are engaged, they are not acting out.”