I recently read in the Washington Post that the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education issued a report recommending that students preparing for a career in teaching should spend less time in course work and more time in real classrooms for clinical practice. According to the article, the report states that this would be more in the model used for medical Doctors. The report advocates less coursework and more practical experience for pre-service teachers. Of course the overriding theme of this article implies that the failure of our system is with the failure of the teachers, so it must be the failure of the way that teachers are prepared.
I see an additional problem in that the report in the recommendation for evaluating the student teacher on the performance of their assigned students on standardized tests.
“All programs held to same standards; data-driven accountability based on measures of candidate performance and student achievement, including gains in standardized test scores. Data drives reform and continuous improvement.”
This however, will require the attention of a second Post at another time.
Before any committee recommends less time in course work and expanding time in the classroom experience for teacher candidates, it should explore the in-school experience as it exists in today’s model. I do not know what other schools require for their student teacher programs. I do know what is required for my students. It is fair to say that my entire opinion on this subject is based on that background and may not necessarily apply to other student teacher programs or programs in other states.
Students seeking a career in education are not required to master one area of content, but two. They need to be experts in their subject area and they need to be experts in the area of education. To accomplish that, a reduction in course work might be counter-productive. The in-class experience might best be improved in quality as opposed to quantity. The way it is set up now is a “crap shoot” for student teachers, and the colleges have little control over the student-teacher experience.
The college controls the courses candidates are required to take. They are also responsible for holding candidates accountable for 100 hours of class observations of real classes as an eligibility requirement for student teaching. Once the student begins student-teaching the bulk of that experience is in the hands of the Cooperating teacher. That would be the teacher to whom the student is assigned for the student-teacher assignment. On the secondary level that would be half of their time in a middle school setting and half on the high school level with separate cooperating teachers. The college is connected to the student teacher through the weekly seminar class to deal with the reflection of experiences and guidance through day-to-day problems.
The weak link in the chain of the student-teacher’s experience often lies in the relationship with the cooperating teacher. Most cooperating teachers are well-intentioned and want to do their best in their role as a mentor for an aspiring teacher. However, this is not true of all cooperating teachers. The flaw in the system seems to be more in the selection process of the cooperating teacher as well as the training for cooperating teachers.
The idea of student-teaching is to place a student with a working teacher as an apprentice. The student teacher is expected to teach classes as a teacher from the onset of the assignment. This takes place over the length of a college semester. The student teacher is responsible for teaching and assessing students under the guidance of the cooperating teacher. This all works well, if: the student is prepared, the teacher is prepared, the student is receptive, the teacher is giving, the student is professional, the teacher is flexible. This is a short list of the many “ifs” required for a successful student teaching experience. Little of this is controllable by the college.
Teachers are not trained to be cooperating teachers and it is not an ability that one is born with. They are volunteers or in many cases they are volunteered. They are not compensated by the school district and the compensation from the college usually comes in the bartering of course credits or small monetary stipends. Cooperating teachers are required to turn over the duties of teaching to a student teacher while still having the responsibility for their own students’ success. In today’s climate that may impact their own assessment for maintaining their position (job), if the successful performance of their students is not indicated on standardized tests.
To further complicate the situation we must ask: Are the philosophies and experiences of the student teacher and cooperating teacher a match? Do they see eye to eye on the integration of technology in education? Do they agree the needs and use of formative and summative assessment? Has the cooperating teacher remained relevant in the world of education? Is the student teacher given respect from the cooperating teacher or viewed as a teaching assistant? Will the student teacher be allowed to create original lessons or will he/she be required to teach lessons of the cooperating teacher?
Colleges try to offer guidelines for cooperating teachers on most of these concerns, but the primary goal of a cooperating teacher does not lie in the interest of the student teacher, but rather with the students of their own classes. I do realize and I do explain to my students that it is how one handles the experience that benefits one’s education. I do believe that, but even I need to question things when students relate some of the experiences they endured under less enlightened cooperating teachers.
Now, I must address the recommendation of the enlightened committee. If I understand this, they are recommending fewer courses to master two areas of expertise. They are promoting placing students into a mentoring environment with cooperating teachers who are not trained, not screened, not adequately compensated, and being held personally responsible for the effect that student teacher has on the assessment outcomes of their students. Is this the model our medical profession trains physicians with? Maybe we should consider quality of the program instead of quantity. More hours of a flawed system of mentorship does not necessarily create better teachers or physicians.
Most Cooperating teachers do the best job they can to help and mentor their student teachers, but there are many improvements which would help them in this noble endeavor.