Opinion
Professional Development Opinion

Six Essential Elements for Improving Teacher Prep

By Lillie Marshall — July 23, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The strawberry yogurt smacked my arm, gushing down my dress. As the class of high schoolers erupted into laughter and tears burned my eyes, a thought erupted in my mind: “My teacher education program did not prepare me for this first year.” Not only was I miserable, but students could not learn in the classroom I had created.

Ten years—and two times almost quitting—later, I now love my teaching career and can do it well. Last month the National Council on Teacher Quality released a report evaluating teacher-prep programs, and the deficiencies found in so many of them reminded me of how ill-prepared I was. Rather than pile on, I want to share a few elements of what I think a quality teacher-preparation program should have for the sake of new teachers and the kids in their classes.

1) Be Practical. Above all, everything in a teacher-preparation program must be directly usable in the classroom. Specifically, programs should include practical training on long-range lesson planning and how to prevent behavioral mayhem. There are too many programs that trap prospective teachers on campus to chat casually about the hypotheticals of education, wasting essential learning time. I graduated from a traditional master’s in education program idiotically unaware that lessons must be planned with the entire unit and endpoint mapped out beforehand. Yes, during my first year of teaching I planned each lesson day by day with no idea where they were headed, making myself and my students miserable. I would have thrown yogurt at me, too!

2) Mandate a full year of experience in an actual teaching classroom with multiple mentors. My favorite teacher-prep program right now is the Boston Teacher Residency, which places teachers-in-training as “residents” in classrooms, paired with mentor teachers for a full year. I mentored BTR teachers for two years and always marveled at how well-prepared they were after completion of the program. The vast majority of BTR graduates are still teaching because they knew exactly what they were getting into when they took on a class solo. It also helps to have more than one quality mentor teacher. As a new teacher, I had four mentors due to a fluke in my placement, and I learned something different from each one. Mentors make a world of difference.

3) Align with the type of school trainees want to teach in. Teaching in a suburban school is much different from teaching in an urban school. One error I made was attending a teacher-prep program aligned to high-income, high-performance schools, while my student teaching was at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum. During teacher-prep class discussions on what to do if one student were an English-language learner, all I could think was, “Do these ladies know that 90 percent of my students are ELLs?”

4) Build in failure and resilience. To succeed as a teacher, you must fail repeatedly as a teacher-in-training (when there are still supports in place), or you will get crushed once you’re on your own. A flaw in my teacher-prep program was that I did not experience enough humiliation and defeat as a teacher-in-training. Had I been hit by flying yogurt during my student teaching, would I have realized how mandatory it is to have a rock-solid classroom management plan before entering the classroom as a full-time teacher? As it was, I graduated with an impressively ineffective discipline scheme—and both my students and I paid the price.

5) Mandate observations at a variety of schools. You don’t realize how unequal this country is until you see a wide swathe of schools, and most people (shockingly, most teachers, too) do not do this. All teacher-prep programs should necessitate visits to at least five different schools over the course of a year.

6) Emphasize humility. As a 21-year-old student teacher, my fatal flaw was hubris. Do not underestimate the arrogance of recent college graduates or their inability to comprehend how bad they will be at teaching. A quality teacher-prep program must repeatedly make explicit mention of this fact, or ... there will be yogurt thrown.

For me, having these elements in place in a teacher-preparation program would have made a world of difference for both me and my students. I am ashamed of the unfocused, chaotic environment I created as a young first-year teacher, and I sincerely hope that teacher-training programs evolve to prevent such malpractice in the future.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion Teacher Collaboration Often Means Analyzing Student Data to Boost Learning. But Does It Work?
For this professional development to be effective, teachers need a blame-free, action-oriented protocol, writes a longtime data coach.
Ronald S. Thomas
5 min read
Image of 3 people looking at data, looking to impact outputs in positive ways.
z_wei/iStock/Getty and Education Week
Professional Development Coming Soon: PD Mega Event From ISTE/ASCD
Bringing the two events to the same venue is a huge step.
2 min read
Attendees walk around the expo hall, where technology companies showcase their products, at the 2022 International Society for Technology in Education conference in New Orleans on June 28.
Attendees walk around the expo hall where technology companies showcased their products at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in New Orleans on June 28, 2022.
Lauraine Langreo/Education Week
Professional Development From Our Research Center Teachers Desperately Need AI Training. How Many Are Getting It?
Teachers' lack of AI knowledge and support hinders their use of the technology.
2 min read
Illustration of AI and classroom tools.
Anna Frajtova/iStock/Getty
Professional Development Opinion Are Your Staff Meetings Unfocused and Disjointed? Try These 5 Strategies
Too often, staff meetings do not focus on learning, which is a lost opportunity. Here's how to make them more meaningful.
Michael Nelson & Peter DeWitt
6 min read
Screen Shot 2024 02 18 at 4.01.50 PM
Canva