Teacher Preparation: Educators Focus On Improving Quality of Teachers
Panel To Submit Recommendations By April
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
January 19, 2013
When Kristina Esposito started teaching six years ago, she had learned a lot about instructional strategies, but not so much about the little things that can disrupt a lesson.
Now a fifth grade teacher in Bethel, she remembers thinking, "My God, I have a masters degree and I can't get kids to sit in their seat and have a sharpened pencil…You can have the best lesson in the world and a bunch of great kids in front of you, but if you don't have the class ready to learn, the lesson isn't going to happen."
Classroom management skill is just one of the issues under consideration by a new panel expected to recommend improvements in teacher training. The panel met last week and discussed ways to increase the rigor of teacher preparation, including sharpening classroom management skills and raising standards for admissions. The panel has an April deadline.
"At the best, the teacher preparation system in this country is confusing," Francine Lawrence, executive vice president for the American Federation of Teachers, told the panel. "At worst, it is a fragmented and bureaucratic tangle of stakeholders with varied and sometimes overlapping responsibilities and blurry accountability lines."
Lawrence said that most new teachers, when asked, say they "did not feel sufficiently prepared on the day they walked into the classroom and faced a full room of students as their first experience as a teacher of record." She was among several national experts who spoke to the Educator Preparation Advisory Council last week.
The council was created at the request of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and is a joint initiative by the state Department of Education and the Board of Regents for Higher Education. It has more than two dozen members from universities, school districts, unions, and other education advocates, and has been meeting since September.
In interviews, school administrators and educators identified other areas for improvement: teaching children with behavioral problems and children learning to speak English; tailoring teaching to various learning styles; using technology; and analyzing data to assess how much students have learned.
Learn By Doing
One recommendation might be having teacher candidates spend more time teaching under the guidance of cooperating teacher or observing veteran teachers. Currently, the state requires that students spend a minimum of 10 weeks as student teachers. Some universities and colleges require far more time.
A full school year as a student teacher is "crucial, it's essential," said Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.
Cohen and others emphasized that student teachers should be present at the start of the school year, when classroom rules and routines are established, right through to the end of the year when student assessments are made.
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that new teachers usually say they feel least prepared in two areas: in classroom management and in the teaching of reading.
"Those are two basic things that people should be prepared to do," Cirasuolo said. "Superintendent after superintendent will tell you preparation needs to be improved."
Brittany Johnson, a first grade teacher in East Hartford, said she spent a semester student teaching as part of her program at Eastern Connecticut State University, but she could have used more time.
"It was the most beneficial part of the whole program," Johnson said. "You are getting out there, collaborating with experienced teachers… You are expanding your repertoire of strategies, tools and resources."
Many experts have emphasized the need for effective mentor teachers to work with student teachers.
Which Bar Should Be Raised?
The council is also grappling with raising standards for admission into teaching programs but they'll have to agree, first, on the standards.
Last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy suggested that teachers have at least a B-plus average to be admitted to a teacher prep program (the state requirement now is a B-minus average). But Kevin Basmadjian, interim dean at Quinnipiac University's School of Education, told the advisory council last week that there is no correlation between a student's grade point average and their effectiveness as a teacher.
Instead, Basmadjian said, "relational skills, self-efficacy, persistence, creativity, and organization," are more critical.
Lawrence, of the teacher's union, said, "an orientation toward other's people's thinking and ideas is really important. We have a lot of students who come to us and say: 'I love kids that's why I want to be here', but those people are not necessarily fascinated by how other people think about content …If you are not interested in how someone else thinks about a subject you are likely not going to be a particularly good teacher."
It's also important that incoming teachers believe that all children can learn, Lawrence said. "There are students coming into teacher education right now, who don't actually believe that."
But experts say that measuring these softer affective qualities in prospective students can be far more difficult than looking at a GPA.
"Most observers of the scene believe that the bar for entry into teaching needs to be raised," said Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who is also co-chairman of the advisory council, "but the question is: How does one define the bar?"
School District As Customer
Teaching programs would be stronger if there was better collaboration between school districts and university teaching programs, say some.
Former Bethel Superintendent Gary Chesley, an advocate for improved teacher education programs, wrote in 2011 that districts "must delineate the specific instructional skills required in a 21st century public school" if they want new teachers to be better prepared for the classroom. "Universities must transform their relationship to public schools…."
Unhappy with the new teachers from Western Connecticut State University, Chesley did just that, creating a relationship with the school. He said his staff worked with WCSU professors to redesign their curriculum on reading. Bethel teachers also began teaching part time at WSCU, offering students an up-to-date look at how their classrooms operate.
Also, Chesley urged the university to provide more training on the use of technology in classrooms.
Maryann Rossi, associate dean in professional studies at WCSU, noted that the university also sent professors out to high schools to work with teachers to ensure that students are getting all that they need to be successful when they get to college.
Rossi said the school of education also hired a retired superintendent of schools as department chair. She said, "This bridge between the public schools and higher education has been wonderful."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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