Professional Learning

Shirley Malcom: A View on Teacher Preparation

September 1, 2001

Shirley Malcom, director of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) discusses what it takes to become an excellent teacher.

1. What do teachers need to know and be able to do?

If you actually look at what a very skillful teacher really needs to know and be able to do, it is much more complex than a lot of us really realize. You've got to have content knowledge. You have to have an understanding -- a deep understanding -- of the content. You have to understand a lot of things about children -- who they are, what they're likely to be like at particular age groups. You really need to be able to assess effectively and in ways that can help you determine what you must re-teach. You have to be able to utilize technology that is appropriate to whatever the field is or utilize technology in order to extract the resources that are available to be able to apply them to particular lessons. It is an exceedingly complex job.

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2. How important is mentoring of new teachers?

I remember my first day in class as a teacher. It's a scary experience. What do you do? How do you create a lesson? How do you keep everybody involved and engaged? Where do you go for input into how to make it better? Or if you have a bad experience, how do you make sure that you don't repeat that bad experience? I like to think about these periods of induction where there are real opportunities for new teachers -- young teachers -- to connect with seasoned teachers, with mentors, as being exceedingly important.

We have a real problem right now in that even the people that we get into education don't necessarily stay there. And often they will leave in the first five years. And it is often because when they run into trouble, there is no place to go. Or even if they don't run into trouble and they just basically want to do it better, there's no person to talk with. And I think that the kind of mentoring experience that is provided is absolutely key to the retention of teachers but also to the cultivation of good habits and good practice over time. So I am a big fan of mentoring programs.

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