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The Future of Teacher Prep Programs

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

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

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

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Jason Kornoely's picture
Jason Kornoely
Elementary Teacher

You've struck to the heart of my thoughts on teacher preparation. I've said it, and have heard it said on so many occasion by several others:

"College never prepared me for ______."


"I learned more in my first year of teaching, than I did in college."


"I'm jumping through the hoops."

I've also heard from people outside the education realm that say they want to teach, but would never have the time to get their degrees. I like the idea of "in your seat" class time replaced with online learning opportunities. I've sat in several lectures lead by PowerPoint with scant class discussion. I often thought, why can't I read view this slide show on my own time, and post a discussion idea on the discussion board--when I want to?

The big question, Heather, is how are we going to get congress to bite on your great ideas?

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

I'm hoping that the program when viewed in its entirety will speak for itself. In later posts, you'll see ideas for The Staff, ways to Differentiate the Credential, the Curriclum/Classes, and the Apprenticeship. In this day and age when so many are insisting on a better quality of teacher, why not start with the teacher prep programs?

It costs so much more to oust an ineffective teacher than to prepare one to be effective. (Actually, I don't know how much it costs, but I'd really LIKE to think that preparation is cheaper than punishment.)

Additionally, I think it needs to become more urgent for these prep programs to be the initial gatekeepers into the profession. They should be rewarded on quality, not quantity. Again, I speak more about this in the upcoming weeks.

Thanks so much for commenting. I bet many of us have had similar experiences and should be a part of envisioning a more effective training program.

Take care,
Heather WG

Heather C.'s picture

I think this is a wonderful beginning to what promises to be an interesting series! I've been thinking of this matter often lately, as the product of two separate teacher ed programs that each lacked something necessary in preparing me for the classroom.

I do disagree with you on one point: "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."

I came to teaching from a professional writing background, and only when I knew that I could no longer make a living from writing did I pursue credentialing after many years as a substitute teacher (and loving it.) You would think that I wanted to teach writing, but I found through the Math Methods course in my first credentialing program that I wanted to teach mathematics. It prompted me to work hard to get the content knowledge for a Master degree in teaching math.

Had I been screened out in the application process as "not suitable" for math -- and by all rights, I would have been *at that time* -- then I wouldn't be teaching middle school math, a subject that I've grown into. I also wouldn't be looking for a science endorsement.

I completely agree with you that these programs should function as gatekeepers, but maybe with the expectation that someone who is strong in one area can find additional areas in which they can excel.

Or maybe I'm jumping the gun and you'll address that in a future post!

Andrea A's picture

What you are saying resonates deeply with me. I watched the movie "The Emperor's Club" again this weekend and was struck by the quote "The end depends upon the beginning." The ripple effect of inadequate/inappropriate teacher preparation programs is disastrous, in that so many kids' endings are affected by the beginnings they receive from their teachers....which depend on the beginnings they receive from their teacher get the idea. Add that to the whole teacher performance dilemma and we're in quote a quandary. How do you know when a teacher is doing a good job? Who gets to decide?

Angela James's picture

I would love to see numerous changes to the teacher preparation program. I don't think anything can prepare a teacher for what is coming up in a classroom because each day is unpredictable. I beleive the best way to prepare teachers is to allow them to substitute teach for a little while so that they can have a full understanding of the needs of students. This would detour a lot of the teachers that are coming into the profession and quitting because their teaching or classroom management skills are inadequate. Having all of the master teachers and supervising teachers in a classroom handling most of the discipline and grading is hardly enoough to fully prepare an educator.

KellyBallesi's picture

Has part two been posted yet? I was really interested in reading the rest of what you had to say. My cousin is a teacher in a rural town. He reads a lot and really works at it to be effective in the classroom. But as he progresses in his career, he really is faced with many challenges from other teachers (many of which are new) who do not have his work ethic. How can he help his fellow teachers, especially those whose passion for teaching is wavering?


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