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The Future of Teacher Prep Programs, Part Two

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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In last week's post, part one, I fantasized about what a credential program might look like years down the line. Now I'm going to take a look at the staff, differentiating the credential, and curriculum.

(Just another brief note: this is my brainstorm, backed up with nothing more than my wishes. I don't know how to fund it, but there are problems with our current credential programs, and to solve them first takes dreaming).

The Staff

Once a candidate is accepted into a teacher prep program, he or she will find that every classroom houses a current practitioner; an educator that is still a part-time classroom teacher heads every class. The staff must be made up of teachers who straddle both worlds, that of the classroom teacher and the educator of teachers.

In the future, classroom teachers can apply to be master teachers in prep programs as a hybrid teacher career path. Teachers who are on such paths are actually salaried by the prep program but receive their health insurance through the school district as a means to split the compensation for the teacher and their contribution to both institutions. It is vital to the prep program that their teachers be working classroom teachers, and it is a bragging right to a district to have a certain number of master teachers in their classrooms.

The Differentiated Credential

We need to indicate that there are those who graduate with a credential and those who graduate with honors in education. The prep programs of tomorrow award a Chiron Award to graduating candidates of great potential. Think about Chiron, the centaur, who taught Jason, Heracles, Ajax, and Percy Jackson. This mythical teacher represented all things wise, kind, and equitable, and his ability to teach allowed him to become immortal earning him a place in the constellations.

This award has some weight for potential future employers. Schools staffed with multiple Chiron Award recipients are rare, but the winners are sought after.

In the teacher prep programs of the future, the credentials are as differentiated as the candidates.

The Curriculum

Approximately one year of seat time, with waiver opportunities possibly shortening this portion of the program.

Each class is structured to address how it applies to any or all of the three Cs (Content, Communication, and Character). By the end, each Master Teacher is asked to evaluate the candidate on a rubric based on all of three categories to determine if that candidate will move ahead to the apprenticeship portion of the program. The Intro to Collaboration and Nuts and Bolts classes can be waived based on the specifics of a Professional Evidence Portfolio (see part one).

Class #1: History of Teaching

This class is about modeling practice through the study of past great teachers, reminding candidates of the teacher they are striving to be. This class studies the practice of some of the greatest educators in history, both from the United States and abroad, from literature, and from the candidates' own pasts.

Class #2: Scenario Management

This class includes actual scenarios submitted by teachers to aid in quick problem-solving and discussion prompts. This allows students to brainstorm together while also giving candidates a real glimpse into the classroom window.

Class #3: Nuts and Bolts

This class covers the basic logistics of daily teaching life. It will deconstruct the pacing of a teacher's lessons, days, weeks, months, and year. What is the rhythm of a classroom? How many decisions does a teacher make in a five-minute period? How does a teacher read a contract or a pay stub? How does a new teacher design a student-engaging classroom? How does one prepare for a substitute teacher?

Class #4: Intro to Collaboration

This class will not only discuss the importance of collaboration in education, it will model it. It will group candidates by grade or subject level, allowing them to work in cohorts during this class to supplement lessons from popular textbooks. Therefore, the candidate will leave with a binder of lessons already designed with the help and creativity of others. This class can't be about collaboration; it must use collaboration to help each candidate.

Class #5: Intro to Creating Assessments

This class will cover the fundamentals of assessments. What makes a good and fair assessment? What are the differences between standardized and differentiated assessments?

Class #6: Grading Practices

This class demystifies the grading process: What kinds of rubrics exist and how can they be used better and more formatively? What is the purpose of grading, and how can a candidate create a system that helps students? How can a teacher work with or develop a grading system that does not become the focus of their practice?

Class #7: Intro to Reflection

This class is conducted simultaneously with the student teaching apprenticeship two-year program. The candidates must reflect on each lesson they conduct and observe, its pros and cons. They can choose the method of their reflection, whether it be blog, index card, journal, or voice memo, in the hopes that one day they will allow options for their future students.

Class #8: Teaching Metacognition

Many teachers don't realize that the IQ can change. This is a powerful concept. How can teachers teach how to think? What are the methods of teaching the brain to embed information more effectively? This class will use brain research to help candidates understand how the brain works and learns at different stages in life and what lessons we can develop to address those stages.

Class #9: Project-Based Learning

Teaching with project-based learning is one way for students to solve real life problems and apply the lessons of the classroom to life outside of school. This class will walk a teacher through the methods of PBL by having them go through the process.

Class #10: Diversity in Learning and Teaching

What are multiple intelligences and learning styles? What is a candidate's learning style, and how can they teach to other styles? Does differentiation really mean we lose all standardization? Our purpose is to teach ALL students; this class introduces candidates to many of the thinkers he or she may encounter.

What's Next?

Next week, my third and final post in this series on Future Teacher Prep Programs will cover:

The Student Teacher Apprenticeship Program

Relationships between Districts and Teacher Prep Programs

Overall Graduation Requirements

Looking at these categories, the curriculum, and ways to differentiate the teacher credential, what is your fantasy for the future of teacher prep programs? We look forward to your ideas and thoughts on this topic!

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

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Andrea A's picture

My fantasy for teacher prep programs includes a sister program: leadership prep, with similar ideas. I love the idea of differentiating the teacher credential. However, when a teacher is "in" or "out" - contract renewed or not renewed - based on the whim of their principal, it doesn't matter how good you are. What matters is whether you teach the way the principal thinks you should teach or, worst case scenario, whether the principal likes you or not. There are some systems in some states ("right to work" states) who are facing this situation.

Jessica Smith's picture

I love how you focus on very practical approaches to teacher training. Why is it that so many teachers feel unprepared the first day of school?

When I taught high school I ran a preschool lab. I taught the high school students how to teach preschool and we ran a four-year old preschool all year. The students were so confident after being in the classroom that long. They knew how to write lesson plans, they knew how to read a book to 15 preschoolers and how to keep them engaged. The students loved running the preschool, I loved teaching them how to run a preschool because all of my lessons became extremely relevant, and the parents loved sending their children to the preschool because the teacher to pupil ration was one on one.

Since we do need to get back to the nuts and bolts of things, we should implement this idea with older students. Run lab schools in the higher grades so students will then realize how relevant each teacher training course is.

Thanks for brainstorming your ideas, something needs to be done and it's fun to hear everyone's ideas!

Bill Warters's picture
Bill Warters
Professor, manager of K-12 website on conflict resolution

It is great to see such practicality in this vision for preparing future teachers! One thing I would add would be a whole section on conflict resolution related classroom management strategies. It could build on the exciting work being done by the Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education (CRETE) initiative supported by FIPSE, the JAMS Foundation and others (disclaimer: I'm the webmaster for, the resource site for CRETE team members). At the moment, more than 20 schools of teacher education are working to incorporate a 4-day basic CRE skills training into their new teacher prep experiences. You can learn more about who and what's involved here: An introductory video is available as well here:
Things seem to be moving fast with the program as more Teacher Education programs get involved. Maybe it can become a core part of your vision as it comes true as well!

Rebecca Burns's picture
Rebecca Burns
Emerging Scholar Interested in Joining the Conversation

Dear Heather,

I enjoy reading your posts and thinking about the future of teacher education. I, too, have dabbled in those thoughts, especially regarding the flattening of administration and power in schools, but mine are currently private dreams to be released some day.

I was wondering if you have heard of Professional Development Schools known as PDSs. PDSs, in a brief summary, are collaborative partnerships between schools and universities to engage in simultaneous renewal of schools, teacher education, and the professionalization of teaching. They have employed some of the very ideals for which you have advocated in your blog posts. For example...

Regarding the staff:
The boundary-spanning staff you mention are critical to the success of both schools and teacher preparation program because together they unite two critical components of teacher education - the theory and the practice. You mention that the would be classroom teachers - we call them hybrid educators - would would be the actors in such a role. I would also suggest that such a role should not solely be occupied by classroom teachers; in fact, university faculty and doctoral students can and should serve in that role. By having personnel from both institutions engaging in boundary spanning roles, schools and universities show (1) a commitment to each other and to the partnership, (2) the willingness to engage in constant dialogue about what theory and practice looks like both theoretically and pragmatically, and (3) a demonstration of the partnership. Classroom teachers possess critical knowledge that is often neglected in university classrooms - they possess practical knowledge. Similarly, university faculty possess knowledge that is often absent, for various reasons sometimes many of which are outside of the teachers' control, in schools - they possess theoretical knowledge. Traditionally, teacher preparation programs have maintained separate space with the theoretical preparation happening in universities and the practical preparation happening in schools. Such separation created tension and resulted in the preparation and experiences about which you have previously talked. By collaborating, schools and universities can work together to bridge that gap so that everyone - teacher candidates, schools, classroom teachers, university faculty, universities, and most importantly kids - can benefit. We can learn from each other if we just would be willing to do so. Such was the reason for the creation of PDSs. So, in essence, your dream of the boundary-spanning role does exist in the form of hybrid educators.

Regarding the curriculum:
Interns in a PDS have a prolonged experience, typically a year, than "traditional" teacher preparation programs. Here they are learning at the elbow of a master teacher and often many teachers for an entire school year. This immersion experience enables them to experience, not just be taught in a course or in a simulation, the many tenants that you have listed above. For example, in our PDS, the students are constantly engaging in reflective practices. Ask any of our graduates and they will tell you that reflecting on their practice is the way of life in the PDS. Secondly, we work hard to help our interns develop a stance towards inquiry, meaning that we want them to problematize their practice by asking questions, gathering data, analyzing their practice, and then disseminating their results within and possibly outside the community. Our interns know that collaboration is a way of life because they are immersed in an experience that, at its roots, is collaborate - the PDS.

While these thoughts are the bare minimum and do not even come close to describing PDS, I wanted you to know that your dream, or at least many parts of it, is a reality. I would be happy and willing to talk with you about PDSs should you wish to continue the conversation.

Until then, keep dreaming. After all, from the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt - "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert-Gawron
ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

Conflict resolution is vital, I agree. I would hope, at least in my fantasy you understand, that the curriculum for conflict resolution was built into real-world scenarios and not just a curriculum of teaching "about" conflict resolution or its importance. It's the role play that I believe better prepares our students, not just the discussion of its need.

Great thought, and great comment. Thanks for jumping in!
-Heather WG

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert-Gawron
ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

Thanks for telling me about the PDS model. Clearly, there are elements that sound very valuable. Reflection has become such an integral part of many teacher excellence programs (NBCT to name one.) I only wish more teachers integrated it into their classroom as it helps increase student metacognition and both inter and intra-personal relationships. It's key.

Now, if only we could get the upcoming draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to acknowledge how vital reflection is, we might see the tail wagging the dog in a beneficial way, and more programs might adopt it as a necessary strategy for teacher excellence.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

-Heather WG

MarioBrutus's picture

Heather, a lot of what you are discussing is how the Cuban teacher education system works. Not a lot of research has been done on this process; however, if you are interested I can share some of my research and a short study I undertook back in 2010 while getting my Masters'. The Cuban "colectivo pedagogico" works as a collaborative education process, where novice teachers are under the observation of a master-teacher. Novice teachers (those who have had their two-year normal school training) are required to perform action-based research in the classroom to become master-teachers. All-in-all it is a captivating system to study. Too bad we have ignored their methods and practices. Cuba boasts a 99% literacy rate. Based on my own research and time spent on-island and teaching Cuban students here in the U.S., I would agree that the level of literacy is accurate.

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