Education Trends

New and Old Challenges for Teacher Candidates

March 4, 2014
Photo credit: BES Photos via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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.


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:

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

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).

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.


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:

And Grant said:

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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