Yesterday I had coffee with a teacher that is very concerned with the student teacher she is hosting this semester. It seems that the student teacher is struggling with the basics such as classroom management, lesson planning and understanding child development. For those of you that have hosted student teachers this might seem like the norm and it may not raise an eyebrow. Teacher preparation programs have traditionally focused on pedagogy and theory in isolation from actual classrooms containing students until the very last semester of their programs. This type of preparation that lacks real hands-on learning opportunities in which preservice teachers can apply what they are learning as they learn it is the standard for most teacher preparation programs. Most teacher preparation programs have student teachers in charge of a classroom for as little as eight weeks.
The host teacher is experiencing an additional frustration with this situation because on top of only having a shaky foundation in her skill set the student teacher will be absent for seven days next month. These days include seminars through her program and sports related absences. She has also missed several days due to calendar conflicts between the school district and the program’s calendar. The reality is that the student teacher will not have the experience she needs to handle her own classroom successfully upon entering the workforce. The host teacher decided to attempt to discuss the situation with the program coordinator and was met with resistance and apathy. She was basically told that these absences are dean approved and that nothing could be done. I was completely shocked by this response and by the lack of desire to even attempt to find some solution to the situation. The host teacher felt disrespected as a professional and used as part of a rubber stamp process that creates “teachers”.
Here is what will happen if we don’t stand up and advocate for a change in teacher preparation programs.
- Teachers will enter the profession unprepared for the reality of teaching and without the resiliency to make it through the first few years of teaching. This is already happening, a growing number of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years of teaching.
- Student will have unqualified teachers and will have to endure a learning environment that does not provide what they need and they will fall behind.
- Substitute teachers will man classrooms as vacancies increase.
- The teaching profession will continue to be viewed as an easy thing to get into attracting lesser quality candidates.
Some of the suggestions the host teacher had for helping to solve this problem are listed below.
- Preservice teachers need to be in PreK-12 classrooms every semester that they are in their teacher preparation program.
- Student teaching needs to be an entire school year, all 180 days.
- The student teacher evaluations need to be more frequent and include coaching and feedback.
- It is currently almost impossible to fail student teaching, teachers are not made in assembly line fashion and it has to be okay to remove the defects before we put them in the students’ hands.
- Entry into teacher preparation programs needs to be more rigorous.
- Teacher leadership preparation is essential as part of a teacher preparation program and should be part of all teacher preparation programs.
- Training for host teachers in the area of coaching and mentoring are essential.
This may all sound like I am bashing all teacher preparation programs and I am not, I am just pointing to part of the system that needs work. We can’t build the next generation of teaching professionals on a weak foundation. All students deserve an excellent teacher and a high quality educational experience, this will only happen if we as educators use our voices and demand a change.