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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mary Hatwood Futrell: A View on Teacher Preparation

Related Tags: Teacher Development

Mary Hatwood Futrell, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, discusses what it takes to be an effective teacher.

  1. What does a skillful teacher need to know and be able to do?
  2. What role should teachers play in the social/emotional development of students?
  3. Why is field experience so important in teacher education?
  4. How does George Washington University approach field experience?
  5. What is the role of mentoring in supporting novice teachers?
  6. What is the role of technology in student learning?
  7. What is the state of technology professional development for teachers?
  8. How is George Washington University integrating technology into its teacher education program?

1. What does a skillful teacher need to know and be able to do?

I think a skillful teacher, first of all, must like kids -- must like working with young people. I think, secondly, a skillful teacher must be very knowledgeable about his or her background -- his or her field of specialty -- whether it's at the elementary level or at the high school level. I think a skillful teacher knows how to present the materials so that the children understand it -- also so that they want to learn, they aspire to learn. I think a skillful teacher knows how to work with a variety of children who have a variety of talents.

All children don't come to us ready to learn. All children don't come as quick learners. Some take a little more time, but some will get it very quickly. Some are very industrious, and they're going to work hard. Others have to be encouraged. A teacher is one who can inspire. A skillful teacher is one who can inspire children to want to learn, and they will always put forth their best ability. I think a skillful teacher is one who says to themselves, "Maybe I need to do some additional work or I need to consult with my colleagues. I need to enhance my own professional development so that I can continue to grow, I can continue to learn."

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2. What role should teachers play in the social/emotional development of students?

I remember a kid one time saying, "Well, why do you care so much about kids? We're from the ghetto. And the kids from the ghetto aren't supposed to be able to learn." And I said, "Who told you that?" And so the child looked at me and said, "Some of my other teachers told me that. My parents told me that, people in the community." I said, "Well, you can learn, and where you're from doesn't make any difference." And part of all of that is motivating students and encouraging students and giving them the confidence and emotional and mental ability to do the kinds of things that they want to do.

Let's face it. They have it. They just have not learned to admit or to agree or to acknowledge that they have it. And so a lot of times simply what we're doing is we're cultivating, we're nurturing, and we're encouraging. And we're saying, "Yes, you can. Yes, you can."

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3. Why is field experience so important in teacher education?

When you're in a classroom on a university campus, you're basically learning the theory -- the theory of the content of what you're going to teach and the theory of pedagogy. You experiment with your colleagues as to how you would prepare a lesson, how you would present a lesson, how you're going to evaluate.

But there's nothing like walking into a classroom, and here you have a classroom with twenty, twenty-five, thirty active students, and you've got to teach them. And the first thing you've got to do is to be able to manage the classroom, because if you can't manage the classroom, you're not going to teach very much of anything. And the second thing you've got to do is to be able to present the lesson or lessons in a way that the children understand, they can learn, and they want to learn.

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4. How does George Washington University approach field experience?

For example, here at G.W. we place students in the full classroom, let's say at the elementary level, as readers. So then you move from observing and from being a reader, as we would say in the elementary level, to maybe working with one class. And you're still not doing your internship, but maybe you're just working with one class or you also get a chance to observe different teachers -- not the same teacher all the time.

By the time you get to your practicum or your student teaching, you've had quite a bit of experience in the classroom. You're comfortable in the environment. You're comfortable talking with students and teachers and parents and others in the school. By the time you have been in this classroom or in the school for about three weeks, you're teaching all of the students. And most places now, you're in the classroom for at least fourteen weeks.

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5. What is the role of mentoring in supporting novice teachers?

The value of mentoring is that we learn from each other. And there's no better way to learn than to watch a master teacher -- or a master anyone -- practice the profession that you're trying to master.

Generally, in most school districts you go in as a first-year teacher, and you're on your own. And what we're finding is more and more school districts are moving toward what we call induction periods. And I think they're absolutely wonderful programs. And basically, what an induction period means is, "I've graduated, I have my certificate to teach, but I'm still a novice. I still have a lot to learn. So for the next year -- two, three years -- I'm going to work with a master teacher. I'm a fully, gainfully employed teacher." They stay in the profession longer than folks who come out of college, go immediately into the classroom, and they have no one to whom they can turn if they need to ask for help, if they need clarification, if they need someone to mentor them.

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6. What is the role of technology in student learning?

I think it has the potential of opening up the world of learning as it has never been opened before. I work with people and I hear them say things like, "If you're studying Shakespeare, you don't have to simply read the plays that Shakespeare wrote and try to understand or interpret what he meant. You can maybe talk to someone in England or someone in another country or someone in another part of the United States and talk about Shakespeare and what Shakespeare meant by some of the plays that he wrote and what he was trying to get across. If you're doing a science project. ... Can you imagine doing a science project in the United States, and you have a partner maybe in Europe or Asia or Africa, and the two schools are partnering together on a science project?

If you're doing something with math or almost anything you're thinking of, it opens up their learning opportunities for young people and for teachers. I think it's a way of saying to teachers, "Here's something to help you help young people better understand what it is they're trying to learn." Is it a substitute? No. Is it a tool that we can use to augment? Absolutely.

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7. What is the state of technology professional development for teachers?

I think schools are probably maybe about fifteen years behind business as it relates to using technology. But we're catching up. More and more school districts are providing training for teachers. They're providing equipment. For example, in the school district where I used to teach -- Alexandria, Virginia -- every teacher got a computer. And they provided the training for the teachers. And the teachers were able to take those little PCs home and practice at home so that when they went back in the classroom, they felt more confident about what it was they were trying to teach the children to do.

As a business teacher, it was easy for me because it was part of my world, part of what I was teaching them to do. But for someone in, maybe, literature, or someone in foreign languages or someone in just basic elementary, they might not feel comfortable using technology in their classroom because it's not a natural part. They don't feel like it's a natural part of what they're doing. But I think by providing professional development training, the teachers will be more willing to do so.

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8. How is George Washington University integrating technology into its teacher education program?

We have brought the teacher preparation department together with the educational leadership department and the educational technology expert. And the leadership department is working with the teacher educators to prepare the faculty to be able to use the technology as they work with their students, who are going to be trained to go into the classroom. We're also using it so that every faculty member in the school will be able to demonstrate through technology their ability to teach via technology because the best way to teach is to demonstrate you can do it yourself.

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