Professional Learning

The Value of Field Experience and Mentoring in Teacher Preparation: Views From the Experts

January 29, 2007

Mary Hatwood Futrell | Bob Chase | Sandra Feldman | Shirley Malcom | Linda G. Roberts

Mary Hatwood Futrell

Dean, George Washington University: Graduate School of Education and Human Development

When you're in a classroom on a university campus, you're basically learning the theory -- the theory of the content of what you're going to teach and the theory of pedagogy. You experiment with your colleagues as to how you would prepare a lesson, how you would present a lesson, how you're going to evaluate.

But there's nothing like walking into a classroom, and here you have a classroom with twenty, twenty-five, thirty active students, and you've got to teach them. And the first thing you've got to do is to be able to manage the classroom, because if you can't manage the classroom, you're not going to teach very much of anything. And the second thing you've got to do is to be able to present the lesson or lessons in a way that the children understand, they can learn, and they want to learn.

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Bob Chase

National Education Association

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. 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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Sandra Feldman

American Federation of Teachers

Watching an experienced master teacher work with those children, seeing how the children react, and seeing how the teacher adjusts and strategizes in developing her strategies with each child and with the group of children -- it's totally invaluable. I mean, you can't just imagine this. You have to see it at work. It's the difference between, abstractly reading about how a surgeon does his work and actually watching a surgeon, and then maybe doing some of that surgery under the watchful eye of the surgeon.

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Shirley Malcom

Director, American Association for the Advancement of Science: Education and Human Resources Programs

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.

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. I am a big fan of mentoring programs.

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Linda G. Roberts


How do you give a prospective teacher the range of experiences that they need to have in the real world? And this is where technology becomes such an important tool early on because there are ways for prospective teachers to -- from day one -- have the sense that they're in classrooms, whether it's participating in classroom activities online, or being able to see classroom activities occur through teleconferencing and telecommunications.

Early on, if you can actually bring teachers to the classroom and be connected to other students like them who are learning to teach and also be linked -- as they gradually move into more and more field experiences -- directly to their mentors. Because I remember working with student teachers, and the most frustrating thing was having a prospective -- novice -- teacher have a problem and not being able to contact me or get in touch with me for sometimes as long as a week or two weeks. Today, the contact can be continuous.

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