New Teachers

The Future of Teacher Prep Programs

August 20, 2010

I was recently asked to contribute to a book about the future of education and what I believed to be the perfect teacher prep program. These thoughts I will present to you in three consecutive posts, broken up into key topics. This first one includes an excerpt from the book, Teacher Solutions 2030 (Teachers College Press, to be released January 2011) while the other posts will continue my thoughts on this vital topic.

My credential program was more of a necessary hoop than a valuable preparation program. My Ed Psych professor read his screenplay to us all semester long. My Methods of Math professor hadn't been in a classroom for 30 years. Additionally, the student teachers I've worked with as a mentor have themselves varied in their own abilities and instincts, with such a wide variation in what is acceptable practice, that I've begun fantasizing about the future in teacher prep programs.

So time travel with me to the year 2030 as I mull over the possibilities for a more honest and rigorous path to the classroom. Allow me some leniency here. I am not an economist. I am fantasizing about a program that can only exist in a funded world, and while my suggestions of possible funding may come from fantasy as well, they are meant to try to stir up some out-of-the-box possibilities. There are admittedly holes in my logic. My blog is sometimes my place of brainstorm, not final draft, and if you'd like, I'd love to hear your brainstorms as well.

So here we go into my fantasy land. Join me at your own risk.

The Overall Vision

Here's an excerpt from the book:

The year is 2030 and teacher recruitment and preparation look a lot different. No, we are not flying around on a jetpack like George Jetson -- but we are experiencing a variety of clinical placements for a profession that demands varied roles.

The teacher credentialing programs of the future will demand a more honest introduction to the challenges and rewards of teaching, while also more accurately predicting a candidate's future ability to teach. While today's programs are all about counting courses, the teacher recruitment and preparation programs of the future are all about finding and preparing teachers who possess the Three Cs: content, communication, and character and then testing them through performance assessments (not multiple choice tests) to see who should teach what -- and under what conditions.

By 2030, teacher-credentialing programs have become differentiated-clearly focused not only on quality but on matching the teachers they produce to the verified needs of the marketplace. They lure folks from every profession to share their knowledge with students of all levels. And while there is flexibility about the paths candidates can travel to achieve a credential, the programs have become more rigorous gatekeepers for the profession as a whole-so much so that individuals who achieve a credential no longer hear "oh, just a teacher" at parties, but appropriate awe. Hey, it's my fantasy, right?

It is actually more affordable for a candidate to seek a credential than ever before because the in-your-seat portion of the program is shorter (and available online as well as offline). The student teaching portion is treated more like a paid-apprenticeship than free help in the classroom.

The Application Process

To get into a teacher preparation program, candidates can come from an undergraduate program or a profession, yet all have gone through a rigorous application process. The requirements to gain entrance into a program should once again be driven by the 3 Cs and includes letters of recommendation, personal interview, content exams or transcripts, or a Professional Evidence Portfolio -- and answers to questions of how someone would handle particular scenarios.

Here is a sample question from a teacher preparation program application:

"Question #3. Student "A" never turns in his homework, is absent from school often, comes to class late when he does decide to show, and yet still manages to get Cs on his test. You tell him to come after school to make up some work, but the kid never shows. You've called the parent, but he or she has never returned your calls, and besides, they are the ones dropping him off late or perhaps even letting him stay at home. He's not disruptive in class, but the kids won't work with him, because they can't depend on him to keep up his share of the work. His notebook is totally empty. Have you done enough to reach this student? What can you do to help him connect to school?"

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Options for Second-Career Teachers

Let's say a dad of two young kids has just been struck by lightning with the realization that he's just got to teach. He's been working in a cubical analyzing data for 10 years and it's supported his family, but he really misses using that math degree in a more social way. How does that guy make a leap to another ladder while still supporting his family?

Professional evidence can be exchanged for content area exams or transcripts. A person can create a portfolio of content expertise proof in the form of spreadsheets, business letters, company communications, and other evidence showing proficiency.

On the onset of the application process, each candidate is provided with an advisor to help guide the candidate to create a Professional Evidence Portfolio (PEP). The counselor also has the authority to deny the application if there is not enough evidence to prove content area expertise, and can advise the candidate towards appropriate options like content area exams or classes.

Teacher prep programs of the future don't lower their standards or cut corners just to allow flexibility for second career teachers; they create other paths that will allow people to find teaching later in their lives. Teaching cannot be second to some other career that didn't work out, but as an option for those who have the skills and the knowledge to impart.

So, looking at the categories in this particular post, what does your overall vision, your application process, and your options for second career teachers look like in your fantasy teacher prep program?

Stay tuned for part two: The Differentiated Credential and the Staff.

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