Teacher educators want our K-12 colleagues to know: We are desperate, too. During the pandemic, we lost nearly all our valuable field placements and many of our hard-earned district partnerships. Fewer college students are choosing to enter the teaching profession, and those that do lack hands-on experience.
We have the same goals that you do: Attack the teacher shortage, diversify the educator workforce, address what is being termed “learning loss” in schools, partner on new initiatives. Recent research has shown us what we need to do to move forward in these areas, but neither higher education nor K-12 has the capacity to do it alone.
For example, let’s consider the teacher shortage along with the immediate and continuing imperative to diversify the educator workforce. We know that teacher pipelines established in and for schools can address these challenges. Home-grown teachers—that is, teachers who work in the communities where they themselves were educated—are more effective, more diverse, and stay longer than ones who are “transplanted.” Districts and universities can partner on recruitment, field placement, coaching, and special programming that can support home-grown teacher pipelines.
Taking a close look at field placement and student-teaching is perhaps the most important way that K-12 partnerships with higher education can advance the profession. Not only can such partnerships help meet a multitude of school goals, but they can also serve as extended hiring interviews.
Investing time and energy to ensure a close match between teacher-candidates’ desires for future placements can also boost teacher quality and retention. Every candidate should be placed with an effective teacher instead of with any willing volunteer in the school. Administrative teams setting expectations for field placement (for example, assist with schoolwide data collection, serve as reading tutors, help staff tutoring labs) in collaboration with university personnel offers another way that partnerships can benefit mutually and create a strong link between coursework and fieldwork.
Many districts are using a significant portion of their COVID-19 relief monies on tutoring, and much of that work is, in fact, being performed by teacher-candidates. This use of teacher-candidates for tutoring is a move in the right direction for addressing pandemic-related academic disruptions. School and university personnel should work together to align tutors’ assignments and the teacher-prep curriculum, as well as create structures for coaching that support both teacher quality and outcomes for students.
It might be easy to fall into the old habit of simply placing a set number of teacher-candidates in specific schools for the required hours needed to complete assignments.
These partnerships can also offer valuable learning opportunities to teacher-candidates who may have been unable to participate in traditional field experiences during COVID-19. For example, multiple teacher-candidates could collaborate within one school to collect actionable data in a selected subject area. They could staff before- or after-school programs. They could also assist older students in navigating online coursework or provide Tier II (small-group, targeted) support in various areas.
It might be easy to fall into the old habit of simply placing a set number of teacher-candidates in specific schools for the required hours needed to complete assignments. Instead, why not think of these relationships in news ways, to create win-win opportunities for the growth of the candidates and the mission of schools.
Here are several ways to make that happen:
1. Concentrate teacher-candidates in one school or district, with the intent of addressing a specific school need or goal.
2. Offer each teacher-candidate regular coaching from both K-12 and higher education personnel.
3. Make deliberate connections between field duties and assignments, with higher education personnel supporting each individual candidate.
4. Place teacher-candidates with teacher-mentors who have demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom.
K-12 and higher education already have many overlapping needs, and the new pressure to support the teacher workforce and address the academic fallout coming out of the pandemic only makes collaboration more urgent. Research has shown that careful partnerships can result in a more effective teacher-recruitment process and can ease shortages, as well as increased teacher quality and retention. School leaders should reach out to area colleges and universities with clear school goals as a first step in developing new structures and opportunities that will benefit both parties.
A version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2022 edition of Education Week as Higher Education to K-12: We Need You Now