What Does a ‘Great’ Teacher Education Program Do?
Being involved with college counseling as well as writing I have to continually read about news, policies and trends in middle school and secondary school education as well as the offerings in teacher education programs. The outlook for public education, aside from “best” school rankings, is rarely positive, although it is not difficult to find examples of good teaching in any public high school.
Quite frankly, too many of the “gloom and doom” stories about public schools and teacher education are silly.
Public and private schools draw from the same pool for entry-level hires from the teacher education programs, with the exception of the schools that source teachers from public/private organizations such as Teach for America. Those schools get fresh-faced freshmen teachers who may be very bright but have not had as much classroom training as graduates of teacher education programs. A teacher’s future success depends on their ability to work “within the system” and to manage their classrooms. These abilities do not come naturally to everyone. Teachers leave the profession because they become frustrated trying to succeed at one, the other, or both.
A good teacher education program should try to assess the temperament of college freshmen to determine if they can succeed in the classroom.
Teach for America uses a model to recruit teachers based on work done by McKinsey to assess the “right qualities,” including temperament. I would like to see teacher education programs used a similar model to screen first-semester freshmen, to at least give them a chance to consider other academic options. While I do not suggest rejecting a student making good academic progress from a teacher education program, a good one should address a student’s non-academic weaknesses at a more personalized level than college classes can do.
I have gathered enough information to determine what a prospective teacher should look for in a teacher education program.
Costs for the Degree
There’s more than enough news coverage about teacher salaries, at least in for teachers in the public schools, and more than enough complaints. The best preparation for the wage scale is to get through college with as little debt as possible.
Depending on the school, students may take between four and six courses for a full-time load. A degree program that includes a secondary school teacher certification will usually require 128 credits. The teacher certification is essentially a second major. Some schools might allow the major, the certification and a minor. Ask early so that you know how your student will work their way through the degree program.
This goes to assessing temperament for the teaching profession before a student commits to a degree program. Managing a classroom in an elementary school is not the same as managing one in a high school. Nor is teaching a special education class the same as teaching a class for average or above-average students. Career counselors at colleges have the tools to perform diagnostic assessments, so do professors in education programs. They also know how to explain the results in a caring way.
A good teacher education program should give students opportunities to observe good teachers in their classroom settings as early as the second semester of the freshman year. The early field placements give students the opportunity to see how concepts discussed in academic materials work in professional practice. They also give a prospective teachers the chance to ask themselves: Can I do that?
Good teachers, in general, want to be around children. Colleges, whether or not they have teacher education programs, are more engaged in community service than at any time in the history of higher education. This includes volunteer opportunities such as one-on-one or small-group tutoring sessions. One of the best ways to learn to teach is to teach people in a smaller group before you have to work with a larger one.
Colleges that have made a major investment in their teacher education programs also conduct separate employment fairs for teacher candidates. Unlike other job fairs on college campuses, teacher fairs are more likely to have on-campus interviews. When you look at teacher education programs ask how these are structured. At some colleges students might read job postings from schools or school districts in advance, then submit their resume to the employers who might fit their interests. At other colleges teacher candidates might have the opportunity to talk to every recruiting organization on campus, then leave their resumes with the recruiter. Students who attend some fairs might have to be prepared to interview on the same day; others might ask them to interview the next day.
All teacher candidates from a teacher education program must pass the PRAXIS before they can go to work in a classroom. At some schools the faculty might provide direction to help with the exam, or offer a prep course. Do not be surprised to find out that the test prep has costs.
These seven areas are a starting point to help you evaluate the best teacher education programt, as opposed to choosing the “best school” in some ranking.
Every college student, no matter the major, learns the classroom material differently. Some will do just fine in a large-lecture class in the introductory subjects; others will need the professor to encourage them. There are teacher education programs at schools that accommodate both types of students. However, teacher education programs are more experiential than others. You want to know that someone has what it takes to succeed as a teacher before s/he gets too far into the experience of learning to become one.
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