Despite recent innovations in teacher education, many high-need schools still struggle to fill positions, and they face a gamble with each hire; while some new teachers get great results, others are woefully unequipped to help students learn at high levels. We believe that, as teacher-educators, it’s our job to remove this uncertainty. We should be able to guarantee that every teacher we certify is effective. Such a promise requires a different way of approaching preparation. Specifically:
Ground training in classrooms. A brief practicum or summer training is simply not enough to prepare new teachers for the complexities of teaching, particularly in challenging environments. Incoming teachers should instead be given a full year of classroom practice, with opportunities to learn effective strategies from mentor-teachers and a gradual introduction to leading instruction. These new educators need frequent feedback and the reality check that the experience provides for some. In our experience, about 20 percent of these practitioners will exit during the first year of training. Those who meet the rigorous first-year gateway can enter their own classrooms with confidence and strong baseline skills.
Teach what works. Too often, teacher education programs have taken a “little of this, little of that” approach to curriculum, but do little to help teacher candidates integrate new knowledge or connect it to classroom practice. Coursework should be experiential and provide teachers with opportunities to practice new skills in the classroom and receive immediate feedback.
Provide sustained support. It takes more than one year to solidify a teacher’s practice. Teachers in training need one-on-one coaching from master-teachers, including regular classroom observations, over the first four to five years of their career. As they achieve higher levels of competence and expertise, their progress should be tracked and used to determine advancement from year to year.
Ensure student outcomes. The best way to guarantee that new teachers will be effective with students is to show that they have been effective already. We had the good fortune to learn from the evaluation challenges of other teacher-preparation programs and decided to launch our training program in just three subject areas so we could rely on nationally normed assessments.
UTC fellows must improve student performance on these assessments by an average of one year for each of their first two years to be certified. This no-excuses standard means that not every teacher we train will gain licensure, but we believe that this tough decision should fall on us. The principals who hire teachers—and the children they teach—deserve assurance that a teacher will be effective. It’s a promise we can make at UTC. We’d like to see all teacher-preparation programs make a similar commitment.
Christina Hall is the co-founder and co-director of the Urban Teacher Center, based in Baltimore. She has served as a public high school teacher and as a program officer in Boston and Baltimore. Prior to co-launching the Urban Teacher Center, she focused on policy and practice inequities and improving instructional practice in the Baltimore City Public Schools as special assistant to the chief academic officer. Follow the Urban Teacher Center on Twitter at @UrbanTeacherCtr.
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