Seven Questions to Ask About Teacher Education Programs
Teacher education is one of the more scrutinized, and one of the most criticized, undergraduate degree programs available in colleges. Education pundits continually comment that degree requirements and standards for licensure are too lax, and that recent graduates are not adequately prepared to face elementary, middle or secondary school students in the classroom. Media coverage of teachers at all grade levels as being underpaid, under-appreciated and under-resourced certainly has not helped. However, I still meet high school students who want to consider becoming teachers. I’m sure that you have, too.
Depending on the college and state, teacher education programs will require competency in a liberal arts major (English, Mathematics, Foreign Language, Art, Music, History, Natural and Physical Sciences) as well as coursework in education. An elementary education degree program, while a major by itself, will require such competency in order to be certified to teach in grades six through eight. Prospective secondary school teachers pursue the major as well as a certification, which might also be labeled a minor. Special education programs will require competency in a second major when a prospective teacher wants to have the flexibility to work in a class at any grade level.
While teacher education courses on campus are likely to have similar content, the approaches to introduce students into the classroom will be different. Here are some questions to ask when considering a teacher education program:
- If you are unsure about becoming a teacher, does the education program, or the college’s career center, offer assessments that might tell you if the profession is a good fit? Given that so many practicing elementary, middle and secondary school teachers leave the field—K-12 schools lose one teacher in six from their faculty each year, and about one in 12 leave the field—and that recent teacher education graduates often opt not to become teachers, it might be helpful to take an assessment to learn if you have the qualities to become a successful teacher.
- What are the classroom experiences before I would begin student teaching, and will they help me to choose the grade level where I would most like to teach? All of us attended elementary, middle and secondary schools. We all know that students in each grade level act differently, and have different needs. The same is true for teachers. Opportunities to tutor, work with children outside of a classroom, observe teachers in a classroom over the first two years of a degree program can be invaluable?
- Can you identify a liberal arts major that could be your competency for middle school or secondary school? Choose a competency that you would enjoy teaching, and that might become your major if you decided not to complete a teacher education program. Your students will expect you to have command over the material that you teach. One of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a teacher is to be corrected by their students, and proven to be wrong.
- Who are your partner schools? Teacher education is one field where it helps to learn about the community near campus. A college that is in or quite close to a large city, for example, might offer exposure to a larger selection of schools within commuting distance, schools that might educate the most advantaged, as well as the more disadvantaged, students you could meet. A religiously affiliated college might have relationships with nearby parochial schools, among others.
- What help do you offer in preparing for certification exams? While colleges will boast about pass rates, some offer more support, and more direction, towards passing these exams than others.
- How will I get to work for my placements and student teaching? Colleges accessible to public transportation might have discounts with the regional or local transit agency that could lower the costs getting around. If you need to have a car at school to get around, be sure that you also have a place to park it.
- If you are already in college, enrolled in a liberal arts major, is it worthwhile to complete that degree, then pursue a master’s that will offer the teacher education you might want? Some colleges, Allegheny (PA) is a good example, offer five-year bachelor’s/master’s options where you can earn a teaching credential immediately after college. These programs are a good idea if you believe that you’re likely to teach in a state that will require a master’s degree to remain in the field. However, your extracurricular and volunteer activities should show continued interest and enjoyment in working with children. It might also be worthwhile to work for a brief time in a program such as Teach for America, which includes some teacher training, to be more sure that you would like to teach in a classroom.
If costs are a concern—new teachers have always earned lower entry-level salaries than recent graduates in business, computer science, engineering or nursing, among other professions—consider the direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board) of the college for the first two years against any aid your receive as the benefits of the program for that time. Unlike business, engineering and nursing programs, where transfer from another major after the freshman year is quite difficult, an education program might be able to offer transfer admission if you have fulfilled core liberal arts requirements, even at a community college.
Teacher education and the teaching profession are too often criticized. But even detractors would agree that there cannot be enough good teachers to educate future generations. Its quite important to be sure that you want to become one of them.
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