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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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New and Old Challenges for Teacher Candidates

It's been many years since I went through my teacher certification and student teaching, and wow! A lot has changed. And yet, there are still some stories of the journey to become a new teacher that remain the same. I recently reached out to my alma mater to speak not only with old professors, but also with current teacher candidates to ask them what it has been like for them.

Certification

There is a new teacher certification, the edTPA, that is being used in many states. It is a high-stakes exam that requires teachers to plan for engaging students and reflect on practice, and it focuses on intentionality of that plan. I had a similar assessment, which was more of a performance assessment of my teaching that included unit plans, reflection, and observations by a teaching supervisor. However, the edTPA is a writing exam, and not really a teaching exam like the National Board certification assessment.

There are also some other pieces that make educators skeptical. It is a privatized exam through Pearson, costs $300, and is scored outside of the context of the teaching practice. In other words, the people scoring the exam are not familiar with the context in which the teacher candidate is teaching. In a blog last year, Diane Ravitch summarized these and many other concerns about edTPA. Amy Ryken, Professor of Education at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington (my alma mater), also mentioned that smaller schools seem to be doing fairly well with this assessment, while larger schools are struggling. In fact, she has this to say:

For the past two years, our faculty scored our candidates' TPAs, and our scores were consistently lower than Pearson's scores -- meaning that Puget Sound already had a higher standard for our candidates.

Teacher candidate Madeline Isaacson echoed many of the positive thoughts and concerns about the edTPA. She currently is K-8 candidate.

For years, the art of teaching has been within the confines of the four walls of the classroom, and I see the TPA as an opportunity for collaboration within the profession and inducting novice teachers into a professional community where reflection and experimentation are normal. However, I also find the enormous workload inhibits my ability to fully take over planning and teaching in my classroom. The university has adjusted its student teaching plan to the enhanced model, which has elementary candidates take over one core subject and one other subject at a time to support the time commitment of the TPA. Due to not being able to commit the time to taking over full days, I often still feel like a student and not a learning professional.

During my own student teaching, I was able to take over the entire day after a gradual release. I too am disheartened to see that this was no longer the case.

Student Teaching

I also reached out to Grant Ruby, a teacher candidate for secondary mathematics education. Like many of us, he was inspired by a great math teacher to pursue a career in teaching, and he also comes from a family of educators. He articulated many of the same challenges that all teachers go through, and reminded me of my challenges when I first started teaching (what I like to call baptism by fire).

I feel that I am facing two large challenges. Neither is more important than the other, as they go hand in hand. One is lesson planning and bringing activities to the classroom that are inquiry based. Rather than giving my students definitions and practicing problems repeatedly, I want them to explore mathematical concepts and come to their own conclusions before introducing the core definitions or theorems. This can be tricky with students who struggle with some of the basic concepts of algebra. My other main struggle is part and parcel of student teaching: classroom management. By this I mean both working to keep students engaged with the lesson and behaving in a non-disruptive manner, and involving all students in the learning process.

During his candidacy, Grant has a structure that many are familiar with. He has a mentor teacher who has really helped him by observing and giving specific feedback that has pushed him. He can also rely on a cohort of teacher candidates to reflect with and collaborate regularly. I remember how important it was to have colleagues to work with, professors that are nurturing and available, and an awesome mentor teacher, Keri, with whom I still keep in regular contact.

Aspirations

Grant and Madeline inspired me with thoughts about what it means to be a great teacher, and really showed me that we can always learn from each other, regardless of years of experience in education. Madeline said:

As an organizer of students' learning, I want to create a learning atmosphere that radiates diversity and facilitates high academic achievement for all students. I will place students at the center of learning and turn their personal interests and strengths into opportunities for academic success.

And Grant said:

I believe a successful teacher is one that can awaken the curiosity of their students, illustrate the intrinsic value of the subject matter, and foster understanding rather than memorization.

Teachers, what are your strongest memories from your training period? And candidates, does your current experience match Madeline Isaacson and Grant Ruby's observations? Please share in the comments section below.

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