Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Improving Teacher Prep

By Heather Jung

Improving public education hinges on hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers, but this is not a task that we have been successful at as a country. Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year (The Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014). While some of these teachers are retiring or moving for family reasons, many of them are new teachers who have just entered the profession.  The first year of teaching is hard and “even those who make it beyond the trying first year aren't likely to stay long: about 30 percent of new teachers flee the profession after just three years, and more than 45 percent leave after five”  (Graziano, 2005).  Idealistic young teachers leave college enthusiastic about making a difference in the lives of their students and then quickly become burnt-out.

Much of the fault for this high turnover rate for new teachers lies with dysfunctional teacher preparation programs in universities.  Other countries do not have the high turnover rate that we have here; for example in Finland “their teacher dropout rate is impressively low: 90 percent of trained teachers remain in the profession for the duration of their careers” (Zeichner, 2012). To be fair our teachers face more challenging classrooms than teachers in Finland, but we can improve our burn-out rate if we raise the standards for entrance into pre-service teaching programs and create programs that truly prepare pre-service teachers for life in the public schools.

The standards for getting into the teaching program need to be higher.  In countries with low teacher turnover, getting into pre-service programs in is extremely competitive.  This is something we can easily replicate.  If a student cannot maintain at least a 3.0 GPA by their sophomore year, they should not be allowed to continue in the pre-service program. 

We also need to look at the professors teaching pre-service programs.  Many of these professors have not taught a full-year in a public school in over ten years.  The populations in our school have changed significantly in the past 10 years; as have the demands put on teachers.  In order to stay relevant, professors need to cycle back to public school classroom teaching (for a full school year, not just a visit) every 3 to 5 years.

Pre-service teachers need to spend more time in public schools, especially in the high-poverty schools (where they are most likely to work after graduation).  In many pre-service programs, student teaching is relegated to the last semester of senior year and is in a middle-class suburban “cupcake” school.   This experience does not replicate the pressures that new teachers will face when they go out into the field.  To get a real sense of the profession they will be entering, pre-service teachers need to spend 2 full school years (not college years) working in the public schools: the first year in a “cupcake” school, and the second in a Title 1 or Special Education setting.  There are no ideal classrooms in the real world.  Pre-service teachers need to experience the true pressures of the public school system while they still have the support of the university.   They need to have the opportunity to go out and experience what really happens in classrooms while meeting with university staff regularly over 2 years.  There they can have a support system with which to discuss why they are seeing situations that are not ideal and to determine how they can face and challenge the status quo when they have their own classrooms.  In this way we can develop new teachers that are prepared to go out and be a positive force to move the profession forward.

Works Cited

Graziano, C. (2005, February 9). Public Education Faces a Crisis in Teacher Retention. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/new-teacher-burnout-retention

The Alliance for Excellent Education. (2014, July 14). Teacher Attrition Costs United States Up to $2.2 Billion Annually, Says New Alliance Report. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from http://all4ed.org/: http://all4ed.org/press/teacher-attrition-costs-united-states-up-to-2-2-billion-annually-says-new-alliance-report/

Zeichner, N. (2012, December 21). Lesson From Finland on Teacher Retention. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from Education Week Teacher: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_ahead/2012/12/lessons_from_finland_on_teacher_retention.html

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