George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Marsha Gartland: A View on Teacher Preparation

September 1, 2001

Marsha Gartland, an education instructor at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, describes the value of field experience in preparing preservice teachers for the classroom.

1. Why is field experience important?

The field placement part of the Teaching as a Profession class is a really important part because it allows students to make sense of what we're talking about in class. And it's nice to get them out into the field very early. Their placement isn't specific necessarily to the classroom that they want to be in when they actually are teachers, but, for example, if they want to be in elementary, we like to get them into an elementary classroom at some level, place them with a teacher who will work with them one-on-one, and show them what teaching and learning is like in their classroom. They can come back to class and we can talk about specific things from the text and just teaching in general. They'll have something really concrete, and feel that it's much more meaningful.

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2. The five-year Curry School of Education program begins in the sophomore year. What is that year like for a teacher candidate?

In their second year, students are typically still deciding if they want to be a teacher and if they want to stay in the program, so this observation period is important because it does allow them to stand back and just look at what happens in a classroom and what it's all about. They come back to class and talk about it with their peers and instructor and really think through some of the hardest parts about teaching -- "What's hard about it?" "What's wonderful about it?" They also get to interact with students enough so they get that feeling that it feels good to be a teacher.

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3. What is the program like for students in the third, fourth, and fifth years?

As they move throughout the program and to their third year and fourth year -- their placements -- they'll have more responsibility in their placements. They'll move from observing to helping the teacher plan, then they'll take on classes, and then teach the classes. And then, in their fifth year in the fall, they do a student-teaching experience where they take on the most responsibility and they take on several classes on their own. They have the teacher there helping them, but they have more responsibility then.

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4. What are some lessons learned by students as a result of their classroom experience?

They came in thinking teaching is wonderful and "I want to be a teacher, and I'm going to do wonderful things." And I'm sure that they will, but they realize throughout the semester that things were a lot more complicated in the classroom than they had originally thought.

They also realize they're going to have to deal with very different types of students. A lot of them said, "You know, I didn't realize. I knew that students were different, but I really never thought that I'd have students with learning disabilities or with limited English proficiency." And so they had to shift their philosophy to think about, "How will I include those students in my classroom? How will I address their needs? And how will I make sure that I do all those wonderful things by maintaining discipline?"

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5. How does the Curry program now differ from the program that prepared you to become a teacher?

The first time I was in the classroom was when I was starting my student teaching. And it was pretty scary, and I wasn't exactly sure how to act and, you know, the beginning was bumpy. And it turned out okay, but I think students here will go in much more sure of themselves -- knowing what's expected of them, having seen many different classrooms and the way they work -- and have more ideas about how to start the year off for different things that they can do, more than just something that you would talk about in class.

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