Professional Learning

C. Emily Feistritzer: Thoughts on Teacher Preparation

September 1, 2001

C. Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Education Information, talks about the quality of teacher training, with a focus on mid-career programs.

1. What are the most important elements in a good teacher education program?

I think the most important, top-of-the-line issue in teacher preparation and most important variable is getting prospective teachers into real-life classroom settings early with mentor teachers. I think those two components are absolutely critical in ensuring that a prospective teacher really learns how to teach and develops the competencies to teach. And there's research that supports that. If you ask teachers what's most important to them in developing competence to teach, the number-one thing they cite is doing it. And the number-two thing is working with other teachers. So, field-based teacher education with mentor teachers, I think, is absolutely critical.

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2. How should the work of teacher education be divided?

I think that collaboration between the intern teacher and the mentor teacher in learning things like how to design lesson plans and how to control a classroom and how to discipline children appropriately are all things that lend themselves to on-the-job training. I think that the mentor teacher, the actual practitioner, is best qualified to teach a prospective teacher those behaviors. And then I think the college/university people should be involved in the more theoretical aspects of teacher preparation, such as learning theory and the psychology of learning and issues such as that. But the practical things, I think, are best done right on site.

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3. What are the key ingredients in an effective partnership between K-12 schools and colleges of education?

Historically, we've pretty much turned teacher education over to colleges of education. People prepare to teach with six weeks of student teaching, and then they wind up going into classrooms and being overwhelmed and leaving, which is a model that we have subsequently learned doesn't work very well. So collaboration to me means that the college/university faculty, with practitioners at the school building or school district level, actually get together and design the preparation program for the teachers for that region or community. And they not only design it; they collaborate in the implementation of the program so that they work together.

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4. Are there alternative ways to get a teaching credential for people who have a college degree?

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have developed some type or types of alternative routes for certifying teachers. And they range all over the place. The only thing they have in common is that the person has to already have at least a bachelor's degree in order to get into an alternative route.

But the alternative routes in the '90s -- every year that went by -- have resulted in ever more refined and, I think, improved, alternate route programs. So that now we do see the development of programs that are really quite well-defined and really do incorporate all of those qualities that I mentioned earlier. You know, they get people in classrooms early working with mentor teachers. The college/university personnel are involved in teaching the theoretical courses that are not necessarily required but needed in order for someone to really become a good teacher. And the programs generally last a year or two.

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5. Is the population of people preparing to become teachers changing?

There has been a tremendous shift in the profile of people studying to be teachers. I don't think it's caught on quite yet just how dramatic the shift has been. But a survey we did last year of schools, colleges, and departments of education that prepare teachers showed that three out of ten people who were prepared to teach in 1999 actually began their preparation to teach at the post-baccalaureate level.

So the old notion that high school students go to college and major in education and become teachers, and that's the pool, is a very old notion. We're really seeing a dramatic shift to older people going into teaching. We're seeing more men following into teaching, mostly from the military. We're seeing actually more minorities going into teaching. We're seeing mid-career switchers that are interested in teaching. And older people, for example, are much more interested in teaching in high-demand areas of the country, such as inner cities and outlying rural areas than young, white females who are majoring in education and coming out of schools of education.

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6. What are the major consequences of this shift in demographics?

I think this shift in older, life-experienced people wanting to teach and getting into teaching through whatever avenue they follow is turning out to be a big plus for schools. We're finding that mature people, life-experienced people in classrooms, are a real plus with hard-to-teach kids and hard-to-teach communities.

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7. Do you see a value in preparing teachers by exposing them to case studies similar to those used by lawyers as they prepare for a legal career?

I think a prospective teacher who would have the opportunity to review case studies and examples of teachers who really can't control a classroom as well as teachers who then turn around and can demonstrate how to effectively control a classroom and prepare instruction lessons and so on is invaluable. I mean, there's no way that you can learn those things from a textbook.

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8. Do teacher candidates learn about teaching by watching tapes of themselves in the classroom?

I think people looking at videotapes of themselves can be instructive. I would really encourage people, though, that are doing this to first start with doing tapes of effective teachers and bad practices first. Because then when it comes time to critique a videotape of yourself or have a group of people critique it with you, then you have a base on which to make judgments about whether what you did or didn't do was effective.

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