Professional Learning

Bob Chase: A View on Teacher Preparation

September 1, 2001

Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association (NEA) discusses good teacher preparation practices.

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

There are really two important criteria for any teacher. First of all, he or she must know a subject area and must know it well. And secondly, they must know pedagogy -- how students learn in order to teach that which they know. And I guess we should add a third component to that and indicate that integral to all student learning today is technology. Not as an add-on but as an integral part of how we teach young people, as an integral part of their gaining the kind of knowledge that's necessary to make sure that they can in fact really exist in a world that's filled with technology.

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2. Can you elaborate on the significance of technology for teaching and learning?

It can certainly help to individualize instruction. It can certainly help to enable students to really widen their horizon as far as opportunities to use the Internet, for example, and open the door. It can certainly widen horizons through opportunities for a real interchange of people throughout the world -- not just throughout one school but throughout the world.

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3. Traditionally, how have teachers prepared for working in the classroom?

When I go back to my own experience, which, granted, was a long time ago, if I had had the opportunity earlier in my education career to have a true integration of what I was learning with real kids in a real setting, it would have been much more helpful to me than waiting until I began my student teaching. Now I may have had opportunities to go in and observe what was going on in a classroom, but there's an enormous amount of difference between observing and participating.

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4. Why is field experience so important in teacher preparation?

When I talk about field experience, I'm not only talking about student teacher experience. There is a traditional component of learning how to become a teacher, of having a few months where you actually are a student teacher. I'm talking more about from the very beginning of the time when you make a decision to become a teacher, to be spending time in schools, not just observing, but being integrally involved in what goes on in schools on a day-to-day basis. It seems to me, for example, that before my student teaching experience if I were to have a class work in methodology on a school site with real kids doing things not in isolation from schools, but in real practical situations, it would be much more beneficial to me when I go out and do my student teaching than it would be if it was just theoretical.

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5. What role does mentoring play in supporting new teachers?

Traditionally in this country, the first-year teacher is put in a situation that is very similar to someone who has taught for twenty-five years, is expected to do the same job, has the same number of students, has the same number of classes -- oftentimes has the more difficult students or the more difficult classes. From my perspective, that's a terrible way to build a profession. What we need to do is create situations where new teachers perhaps have fewer classes to teach, and in those other times can be working with their mentor, can be observing other classes, can be co-teaching with other teachers -- those kinds of things that will enhance that person's skill early on. And this has to be more than a one-year program.

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