Teacher training: what's the best way?
Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, while others are advocates of so-called alternative models, which can speed up entry into the profession.
Johanna Klinsky remembers her teacher training ruefully.Skip to next paragraph
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She loved the theory she learned, but her only classroom experience was 10 weeks of student teaching, which did nothing to prepare her for the chaos she would encounter as a teacher in an inner-city Chicago school.
"It was pure hell," she remembers. "I was wildly unprepared." In the end, though, she became part of the 55 percent or so of teachers who stick with the profession beyond five years. "But I guarantee you those kids didn't learn a thing," Ms. Klinsky says.
These days, she works as a coach in a Chicago teacher-preparation program far different from the one she went through: Aspiring teachers are paired with mentor teachers for a full year in urban classrooms before becoming teachers themselves. It's one model gaining attention right now as educators and policymakers debate how best to train teachers – particularly for the high-needs urban classrooms that need good teachers the most and are often saddled with those who are least-prepared.
There's now wide agreement that good teaching is the most crucial factor in raising student achievement. But when it comes to how to train those teachers – and how to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running and are likely to stick around – there's a deep ideological divide. Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, which produce 4 out of 5 teachers in the United States. Others are strong advocates of so-called alternative models designed to streamline entry into teaching for exceptionally talented students or mid-career professionals.
"The vast majority of both traditional teacher-education programs and alternative certification programs are not meeting the needs of kids," says Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality in Hillsborough, N.C. The debate between the two is "a false dichotomy," he argues, since there is often far more variation in quality and design within the two camps than between them.
In particular, Mr. Berry notes, most programs right now are doing a poor job of preparing teachers for schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. "The pace of life in those schools is such that it's not all that amenable to learning on the job," he says. "It's too intense."
Not everyone agrees with that assessment, and some people point to studies showing that training makes little difference in teacher effectiveness.
"The variable that makes the most difference is the recruitment and selection on the front end," says Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Alternative Certification in Washington. She's a proponent of easing the entry to the classroom, especially for well-qualified or older candidates who may be less inclined to return to school for a traditional teaching degree.
Alternative routes to teaching, which number more than 100, share certain
characteristics: They generally speed up the process of entering the profession, and usually, participants take at least some of the course work concurrently with the first year of teaching.
But the programs range from highly selective ones with finely honed training segments and good on-the-ground support to programs that many consider "degree mills" and may have no real supervised training.