An overhaul of teacher prep, student-teaching

Teacher preparation programs should be “turned upside down,” with more emphasis on supervised classroom teaching experience than educational theory, a National Council for Accreditation of Education panel recommended this week.

One thing that strikes me about the report is the language that evokes medical training — “clinical” preparation, “residencies,” and “rounds.” Maybe it’s nothing new, but it’s interesting to me, especially since accountability and performance pay discussions so often lead to comparisons of the teaching and medical professions.

Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuck wrote a detailed piece about the recommendations and what they might mean. Here is an excerpt of his story:

… the report by the NCATE panel, which was set up in January, outlines recommendations for how states, universities, and school districts can work together to improve teacher-candidates’ student-teaching. (See “NCATE Panel Weighing Fieldwork for Student-Teachers,” Jan. 20, 2010.) Among them is the importance of getting districts to take a more active role in the preparation of teachers, by working with training programs to design rich field experiences.

“The whole district has to believe that their future depends on helping us prepare teachers,” said Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system and the co-chairwoman of the NCATE panel.
Ms. Zimpher underscored that clinical approaches to teacher preparation can include a variety of methods and ideally knit together several, including the residency model; “rounds” in which teacher-candidates are exposed to a number of school settings; and simulations that allow teacher-candidates to practice their skills on virtual students.

But all programs that prepare teachers need to provide such experiences, she said. They should no longer be confined to a “cottage industry” of best practices located in a handful of initiatives.

What do you think of the recommendations? Which of them are already in place in some local programs?

Teachers: How well did your teacher training prepare you for the classroom?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Hot r

    Having mentored many student teachers from a variety of Bay Area programs I feel I can authoritatively comment on the various programs. None of them prepared the teachers for the classroom experience. But does medical school or law school prepare students for the operating room or the courtroom? As I have grown more experienced I have grown more appreciative of the importance of theory. Student teachers know nothing and the quality of their teaching experience totally depends on the quality of the mentoring teacher and the school where they are assigned. What I think is that it is a crime that student teachers are charged so much to enter a profession which does not pay.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Clinical vs. Theoretical? Yes, both.

    I don’t think needs to be turned on its head. I think it needs to be expanded. Part of being an educator is being a scholar. We should be scholars of our fields (history, science, language, mathematics, art, etc…) and we should be scholars of educational theory, philosophy, and pedagogy. Reducing the number of classroom hours in order to increase the number of at-school hours is misguided and will result in a further deskilling of teachers that will eventually turn us from professionals to administrators of curriculum.

    At the same time, some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been at my schools where no university experience could have prepared me. When I began teaching fifteen years ago, I frankly expected to eventually mourn the death of a student. My own high school graduating class mourned the loss of three of our fellows to drinking and driving. When I heard on the 3rd of January that Ryan was dead, I was shocked but ready to handle the grieving I expected my classes would be experiencing. When I learned that he had been gunned down in front of his girlfriend and baby daughter by another teenager who mistook him for someone else, I was too shocked to cope effectively with the day.

    What I am most concerned with proposals like NCATE’s proposed reforms is that these reforms are being born at the close of the NCLB era but before the functional birth of the Common Core Standards’s era.

    Perhaps NCLB’s most damaging legacy is the decade long process of redefining the concept of “good schools” into a number of a fill-in-the-blank test. As this era sunsets, we are experiencing strong efforts to redefine “good teaching” and the behaviors that teachers can do that result in high scores on fill-in-the-black tests. I sincerely hope that NCLB does not succeed in redefining “well-educated person” as a high score on a fill-in-the-blank test.

    I understand how emotionally satisfying it is for most people to look at one simple number and infer from it a judgement on a very complex system. It’s easy and satisfying to see a test score going up and think “good school,” “good teachers,” “well-educated children.”

    We get the same feelings from watching the Stock Market go up or the stock values of a company go up. Stock up equals successful company. Stocks down equals failing company.

    I want to remind each of us that Toyota’s stocks were climbing while they were making cars that would have unintended acceleration problems that caused dozens of deaths and injuries. BP’s stocks were going up right before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Lehman Brothers’s stock was going up right before the bubble burst.

    Our very best education experts tell a similar tale for schools. Rising scores on standardized tests are actually in indication of deep problems at a school and not improvement. This is because high scores on tests like the CST and the High School Exit Exam reflect superficial memorization of facts rather than deep complex thinking.

    I get worried thinking that California’s teacher preparation programs may begin training a new generation of teachers to very good at the failing practices and processes of the last century.

    I may be wrong, NCATE’s recommendations may in fact be dove-tailed in with the new Common Core Standards and the new generation of authentic assessments being presently designed for use in 2014. I certainly hope it is.

  • Ms. J.

    Very interesting thoughts, David Orphal–thanks. My first reaction to this post is: no, I was not well prepared by my teaching program, although it was a two year program with five student teaching placements and supposedly gave us depth of experience as well as lots of developmental psychological theory. I wish I could go back and take some of those classes now, having eleven years of teaching experience, but what I needed then was a lot more hands-on practice with the guidance of more mentors. I have benefited from having a student teacher in my class and I would like to do so again–I think that this can be a productive experience for all parties, and lead to increased reflection for the teacher as well as the student teacher. There should definitely be partnerships b/w school districts and teacher prep programs–a winning situation for everyone.

  • James

    David –

    You had me right up until the following:

    “Rising scores on standardized tests are actually in indication of deep problems at a school and not improvement. This is because high scores on tests like the CST and the High School Exit Exam reflect superficial memorization of facts rather than deep complex thinking.”

    What on earth is the basis for this conclusion? Have you worked with high-scoring students that are less able to engage in “deep complex thinking,” on average, than their lower-scoring peers? How did you know? Can you point to schools with rising test scores that have “deep problems” and identify what those problems are, either qualitatively or quantitatively?

  • cranky teacher

    Reality check: Most new teachers in Oakland don’t even go through a full-year prep program. They come through one of the pipelines (TFA, OTT, others) and have at most a few weeks of Summer cramming and then take classes in the evenings as they learn on the job.

    I suppose from the point of view of this study, this can actually be spun as a good thing, as they have no time or energy to get too much into theory when the students are awaiting them for a full day the next morning.

  • Sara

    I was told to student teach under an Af-Am woman. That was the sole criteria. That is because I am white and according to my professor, white teachers can’t teach children of color so supposedly I was supposed to watch and learn how she taught. I never understood why it had to be a woman. I had two weeks to find someone. I ended up student teaching under a woman who pretty much sat in a chair the whole time, never walked around, was bored by teaching, was ready to retire, and had me teaching both periods of the class from the second week. What a waste of a possible learning experience. I knew a really good white woman who taught and I would have loved to have been her student teacher. I would have learned so much. At least I learned what not to do from watching my “mentor” “teach” her other subject.

  • Gordon Danning


    Although David overstates his case, he has a valid underlying point: the current tests do tend to assess only lower level skill, such as memorization, etc. There is no assessment of analysis and other higher level skills at the state level. Were the state to establish such a test, schools and teachers would emphasize those skills more, which would be a good thing.

  • wdcrachel

    I wonder if this method would also be a way to support teachers in the classroom, supplying more adult bodies. So, you have hands on application and practice for pre-service teachers, and veteran teachers benefit from more adults assisting students with assignments.

  • http://www.ba-tti.org Bob Houghteling

    As the director of a teacher training program with a strong residency model, I believe an experience-rich program is a way to support new teachers. I am encouraged by NCATE’s critique of traditional experience-poor student teaching. Our program, the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute, places elementary school student teachers in 25 different charter, parochial, and private schools where they are paid and teach full-time—but as assistant teachers, not the Teach for America or OTF intern model. We call it “slow roast”. Our student teachers get two years to see good (and occasionally bad, but you learn from that, too) teaching mentors. They work in three public and private schools, so they see a range of children and teaching styles.

    But I agree with David Orphal’s thoughtful comment that theory can’t be ignored in favor of practice. We have raging discussions in our SF State sponsored classes and seminars about bilingualism vs. immersion, about teachers’ class biases, critical thinking vs. test prep curriculum. Good teacher training must provide that chance to reflect on practice and connect it to theory. Soon enough, new teachers in their first few years of teaching will lose this reflective time, as they’re fighting for survival with all the challenges of curriculum, classroom management, and working with parents and colleagues.

    I am happy to see that there are a few programs like ours in the Bay Area that have already overhauled the old way of training teachers. The Aspire Public Charter schools have established a four-year residency program that is very promising. The Reach Institute, a coalition of a dozen or so charters in the East and South Bay, is running a good teacher-centered training program for its schools’ intern teachers. And Cal State East Bay Extension has a program for teachers’ aides as well. We are lucky in the Bay Area to have some strong teacher preparation programs. But sadly, budget cutbacks have hobbled at least one, the innovative arts-oriented DTE program at UC Berkeley.

    We need Teach for America and other fellows programs; we certainly can use really bright and energetic teachers in schools. But for the long run, student teachers need to be trained slowly, with lots more emphasis on real experience, than most are getting now. I believe BATTI is filling this need.