This is the time of year when we welcome new teachers into the profession. Recent college grads will enter the workplace as brand new teachers. We meet them in interviews and marvel at how young they are and how much they resemble our students. Interviewing new teachers is not as difficult as interviewing experienced teachers because we often assume that new teachers are eager blank slates that can be molded and trained to be effective. I have heard this sentiment many times and have often wondered why we have come to accept underprepared new teachers as a norm.
Recently, I was asked to add my thoughts to the bulleted statements below on the topic of new teachers.
- Teachers are coming out of teacher prep programs with variable knowledge bases. Yet teacher in-depth knowledge of his/her subject matter is highly correlated with successful teaching.
The disconnect between teaching and teacher preparation programs is vast and needs to be narrowed significantly. Teaching is both an Art and a Science. There are things that teachers can learn to do and things that are natural to teachers. For example: the ability to read people or a situation is an art, this can seldom be taught or replicated. This is a critical skill to have as a teacher.
- Teachers need experience in how to develop curriculum.
Teachers are often given prepackaged curriculum because teachers seldom come with the preparation they need, both in teaching and in the science of developing curriculum. These prepackaged curriculums assume that teachers are not able to create what the curriculums offer. This may often be true as teachers are not given the time needed to collaborate to create curriculum that is tied to student learning needs.
- Teachers need to know how to analyze their teaching and student learning in a thoughtful way.
As a mentor for teachers pursuing National Board Certification, I am faced with this reality everyday. Analysis of teaching practice and student learning are at the core of the National Board process. I often come across teachers that struggle with this; they have seldom had the opportunity to truly examine their own work.
- Teacher internships need to be long, ongoing experiences with guidance from accomplished teachers.
Student teaching should begin as soon as a student enters a teaching preparation program with a final internship experience lasting at least one year. It should also include a component outside of the expected area of study such as: international experiences in schools, alternative schools, diverse populations, adult education and education in correctional facilities.
- We owe it to teachers to provide them with the knowledge and skills they want and need.
Teachers are thrown into a classroom ill-prepared and are expected to be effective. Teachers need ongoing growth, support and rest. The job is far too challenging on its own and becoming almost impossible without support.
Let’s consider for a moment a different system, one where new teachers spend the bulk of their preservice time in real classrooms learning from the most skillful teachers in an apprenticeship. New teachers would only be accepted into the profession once they have demonstrated a solid foundation of teaching practice. New teachers would remain in a mentoring relationship for several years after entering the profession to refine and enhance their knowledge and skills.
Our students deserve teachers that are fully prepared to tackle the challenges of teaching and new teachers need realistic preparation, training and guidance. If we don’t teach the teachers, how can they teach the students?