Professional Learning

The Future of Teacher Preparation: Two Experts Share Their Thoughts

A closer look at the status of teacher preparation.

October 1, 2000

Diana Natalicio, PhD, is president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Credit: University of Texas at El Paso

For many educators, the response to a question about what teacher preparation at a university might look like ten years from now would be quite simple. They would likely say that teacher preparation hasn't changed much in the past fifty years and therefore is unlikely to do so in the next decade. For them, teacher education programs consist of three discrete and disconnected parts:

1) a broad-based undergraduate program leading to a bachelor's degree, with some education courses near the end of the experience;

2) a student-teaching experience -- for as short a time as twelve weeks -- in a public school at the end of undergraduate coursework or sometimes in a fifth year; and

3) a first year of full-time teaching in a public school with little ongoing linkage to university preparation. The "welcome to the real world" atmosphere at a new school often is accompanied by suggestions that much of what was learned in university coursework is irrelevant.

These three central elements of teacher preparation are often disconnected and the responsibility of different sets of professionals -- teacher-education faculty, student teacher supervisors, and public school professionals. They often have little contact with one another and do not coordinate their efforts and goals.

The stagnant image of teacher preparation may have been accurate a decade ago, but teacher education has experienced more significant changes during the past decade than in the prior five. National and state attention to the quality of teachers, along with high attrition rates and external accountability systems, have added to the pressures for major changes in teacher preparation. Moreover, the next decade promises to be one of even greater change and continuous improvement.

At the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and at many other colleges and universities across the nation, teacher-preparation programs have undergone dramatic reform and renewal. What has changed and what is likely to change further?

Arturo Pacheco, PhD, is dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Credit: University of Texas at El Paso

Universitywide Responsibility

Traditionally, university teacher education has been perceived to be the sole responsibility of colleges and departments of education. Teacher-preparation programs often have been viewed as having far lower status than programs for specialists and graduate students. Increasingly, however, faculty members in education, in collaboration with their colleagues in the arts and sciences, are taking responsibility for improving such programs.

They are motivated by two important factors. The first is growing recognition that better teachers are the keys to improving the public schools and that universities have a fundamental moral responsibility to do their part through the preparation of teachers. Second is that most states are implementing systems that hold the entire university accountable for the success and effectiveness of teacher-preparation graduates.

University presidents and provosts are paying attention as they never have before, and they will continue to do so. At UTEP and other teacher-preparation programs in Texas, for example, deans and arts and science faculty work closely with education faculty to examine and revise the curriculum and their teaching to ensure that students will meet the state standards. They also work to ensure that the institutional pass rates of the university's teacher candidates meet the required state standards.

Collaborative Teacher Preparation

The disconnectedness that traditionally marks the pathway from preparation to the first years of teaching is rapidly disappearing. Partnerships between universities and the public schools that share the joint responsibility of preparing new teachers are far more common.

At UTEP, for example, the Teacher Preparation Advisory Board -- made up of public school principals and teachers and university faculty members -- meets regularly to review the teacher-preparation program for the purpose of keeping what works and changing what doesn't work.

The board, made up of more public school teachers than university faculty, has great influence in determining the university's teacher-education reform. Arts and science faculty members are key because often more than 80 percent of teacher-preparation coursework is in their courses. Because of such partnerships and a more systemic approach to educational change, efforts in teacher-preparation reform are now far better aligned with changes in the public schools.

Having university faculty and their K-12 colleagues design new teacher-preparation programs bridges the gap between theory and practice. And as these collaborations result in improved student learning, they will be in even greater demand.

Successful and effective partnerships include all the key players in the education of children, such as civic and business leaders and -- most important -- parents. Our teacher-preparation curriculum includes required coursework on working with parents and community members, and all interns in the field are required to do home visits in the community.

Going into the Schools

Research results and the study of best practices have indicated that teacher candidates need far more field experience to bridge the theory/practice gap than was provided by the traditional student-teaching model. Teacher preparation will increasingly look like the medical school model, in which medical students spend their first two years in university classes and their last two years in a variety of internship experiences in teaching hospitals under the joint supervision of university faculty and supervising clinical faculty.

New teachers of the future will spend far more time getting practical experience in schools before they graduate, and many of their university classes will be taught at partner-school sites. These partner schools, or professional-development schools, will be both sites of ongoing professional development and places for research on effective teaching and learning, not unlike the teaching hospitals of the medical school experience.

Integrating Technology, Teaching, and Learning

New technology has already transformed how we think about access to knowledge, and Internet connectivity is already helping us equalize access for all communities. Yet beyond increasing access to knowledge, we are only beginning to understand the full potential of computer-based technology in teaching and learning.

All teacher-preparation programs of the future will demand general technological proficiency, including the development and use of computer-based assessments. Teacher candidates will use computers to keep track of student progress through electronic portfolios and reflection journals, for email and electronic-journal communication with students, for development of Web-based and CD-ROM-based courses and materials, and for digitized video in the analysis of classroom learning and teacher performance. Textbooks as we know them will no longer play the dominant role they have traditionally played in our classrooms.

Use of technology by our teacher-education students prepares them for teaching and learning in the twenty-first century. With support from a U.S. Department of Education grant, many veteran teachers throughout the El Paso area return to the campus to pursue master's degrees in educational technology. They then go back to their schools to both integrate the use of technology into their classrooms and mentor other teachers.

High Standards

Almost all states have developed or are in the process of developing K-12 content standards in major subject areas. They set benchmarks for what children need to know and be able to do in key subject areas and at key grade levels. Teacher-preparation programs will have to align their curricula so that their teacher candidates know and understand the standards and their use in learning.

As we move from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm, teachers will increasingly be held responsible for the learning of their students, and they will have to know much more about multiple assessments of learning. Teacher education is shifting from making assumptions about how students learn and basing teaching models on those assumptions to asking questions about what learners need to know and developing a plan of support to meet the learning goals.

Computer technology will be of great assistance in this effort. In addition to electronic portfolios to keep track of student progress, for example, students can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through the preparation of multimedia performances and presentations.

Beyond content standards, new teachers will be held accountable for meeting teaching standards, and the quality of preparation programs will be judged by how well their students meet these standards. Performance standards for accomplished teaching that were developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are being translated into requirements for new teachers in many states through the work of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).

These standards for new teachers are expected to be required throughout the country by the end of the decade. UTEP is introducing these standards to the teacher-education program by bringing together teams of education faculty with those in the arts and sciences.

Greater Prestige and Rewards for Teachers

Driven by both projected nationwide shortages of teachers and by the growing recognition that public schools remain critical to the preparation of an educated citizenry, the importance of highly qualified teachers is increasingly recognized. The logic is simple: better teachers, better schools; better schools, more successful children.

In a 1998 Harris Poll taken for Recruiting New Teachers Inc., teachers were ranked first as the professionals who provide most benefit to society -- ahead of physicians, nurses, and lawyers. Many states, such as Texas, have moved to increase the base pay of teachers, and many other states and districts now offer pay incentives for exemplary teachers, such as those who have attained National Board certification.

During the next decade, our society will increasingly recognize the importance of teachers and will slowly move to ensure that all children have the opportunity to be taught by caring and competent teachers. It will recognize that teaching is a moral imperative to sustain a democratic society, and it will begin to reward good teachers accordingly.

In many respects, this role of public schooling has not changed much from the vision of the founders of American democracy. Thomas Jefferson and other framers of the Declaration of Independence knew that the survival of a vibrant democracy depends on an educated citizenry, and the way to ensure such an educated citizenry is to provide a strong system of public education with good teachers. This is an essential public good, and good teachers are the stewards of that common good.

Diana Natalicio, Ph.D., is president of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), a position she has held since 1988. Arturo Pacheco, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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