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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Linda Roberts: A View on Teacher Preparation

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Linda G. Roberts, founding director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, discusses technology and teacher education.

  1. What do teachers need to know and be able to do?
  2. What are the key ingredients of a good teacher education program?
  3. You have said that technology helps to create new forms of mentoring for teachers -- how so?
  4. What role does technology play in connecting prospective teachers to the "real world" of the classroom?

1. What do teachers need to know and be able to do?

When I think about the teachers that I've known who are really good at what they do, it seems to me that they, first of all, have a tremendous understanding of the content they're teaching and they never lose that expertise. So knowledge about the subject matter and really feeling comfortable with that is very important.

But, at the same time, they take that subject matter knowledge and they link it to a sense of how kids learn -- the variety of ways they can engage children in learning and have them really achieve the full extent of their capabilities. And then I would say that today's really competent teachers -- skilled teachers -- also have a whole new set of possibilities, or resources, that evolve around their use of technology. But the technology's not separate. It's very much a part of how they think about content, how they think about learning, and how they think about teaching.

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2. What are the key ingredients of a good teacher education program?

When I looked at how universities and other programs are preparing teachers, what comes across as really important is an opportunity for teachers -- prospective teachers -- early on to have experiences that put them in the classroom, that give them, in a sense, the practical experience. And that practical experience then gets linked to the theory and the knowledge base that we have about what works and how kids learn.

The other really critical element about preparation -- and you see this, by the way, in the preparation of doctors -- is this idea of being able to have mentors -- people who are already very experienced and knowledgeable. And whether we're talking about patient relations or we're working with students, we're talking about a knowledge base that grows over time and can be shared between the novice and the expert.

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3. You have said that technology helps to create new forms of mentoring for teachers -- how so?

The idea of mentoring, the idea of apprenticeship, is probably not all that new, but in the past there were rare opportunities to see it happen. And the reason I say that is that there was a very distinct separation from the potential mentors one could have from the university or the academic setting, and, once you went into the real world, into the classroom. But also the very nature of schools and classrooms where the idea was once you're a teacher, you close the door. That's the key. You close the door, and you're on your own.

What has happened because of technology is that the door can always be open. We don't know who all the mentors are or who they can be. I mean, it can be colleagues. It could be retired teachers. It could be people who are at the university. It could be researchers. It could be people in industry who are developing new products and new ideas. I mean, there really is an unlimited potential here for, not just support of teachers but real partnership efforts between people who care about education, who care about learning, who want to be pioneers, who want to be innovators, and who, for the first time, can find a like-minded community beyond their classroom doors.

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4. What role does technology play in connecting prospective teachers to the "real world" of the classroom?

How do you give a prospective teacher the range of experiences that they need to have in the real world? And this is where technology becomes such an important tool early on because there are ways for prospective teachers to -- from day one -- have the sense that they're in classrooms, whether it's participating in classroom activities online, or being able to see classroom activities occur, you know, through teleconferencing and telecommunications.

And then, early on, if you can actually bring teachers to the classroom and to be connected to other students like them who are learning to teach and also be linked directly to their mentors as they gradually move into more and more field experiences. Because I remember working with student teachers, and the most frustrating thing was having a prospective -- a novice -- teacher have a problem and not being able to contact me or get in touch with me for sometimes as long as a week or two weeks. Whereas today, the contact can be continuous.

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