Teacher Education Needs a Structural Change

Teacher education is the education a teacher receives in order to prepare for the teaching profession. Teacher education programs can be combined with a university degree in Education, or they can be part of an Alternative Certification Program in which an individual with a degree in something other than Education is prepared to become part of the Education career field. Apart from pre-teaching requirements, teacher education also includes the many hours of continuing education and professional development required of teachers who are already working in classrooms.

Why does teacher education need to change?

The issue is, many teachers feel extremely unprepared upon entering the classroom for the first time, even if they have completed their teacher education requirements with flying colors. In one study done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), teachers who had recently completed a teacher education program or professional development in a particular topic with high levels of engagement did not feel more adequately prepared to implement what they had just learned than the teachers who had not recently completed such requirements. 

In addition, studies done by the NCES and The Civil Rights Project have found that, upon completing teacher education requirements, a majority of secondary-school teachers still feel unprepared for the classroom, especially when it comes to helping students who are English Language Learners or who have special needs.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, which evaluates the efficacy of teachers and teacher preparation programs, rated 134 teacher education programs across America, about 10% which prepared Elementary teachers and 90% which prepared Secondary teachers. They found that three-fourths of those 134 programs did not meet the five basic standards that constitute a high-quality teacher preparation program. 

A large part of this problem exists simply because these programs are not well-regulated. For instance, many teacher preparation programs require student teaching as part of the curriculum. Student teaching consists of a soon-to-be-teacher observing and assisting a certified, veteran teacher in an actual classroom setting. 

But the National Council on Teacher Quality found that most of the teacher education programs they rated did not have requirements for the length of time the student teacher must be with the students, nor did they have vetting programs or quality requirements for the cooperating certified teacher who would be acting as a mentor by facilitating the student-teacher experience.

Teacher education needs a structural change

Despite the high levels of teacher unpreparedness arising from lackluster teacher education programs, it is often teachers that get blamed for education’s ills. Teachers quit their jobs at the highest rates on record, especially during the first few years of being in the classroom. Perhaps this is because most teachers aren’t fully aware of what they are getting into. 

When teacher education programs fail to reconcile the “ideal” classroom with that of reality, teachers are often shocked to find how difficult the profession can prove to be on a daily basis, especially in regard to classroom management. This is especially ironic considering that the NCES study found that soon-to-be-teachers felt most prepared in the area of classroom management, possibly because they were not shown the realities of modern American classrooms. Even many classroom observation requirements for Alternative Certification Programs can be completed in online classrooms in many states. 

This is hardly providing naive student-teachers with an accurate picture of reality. Perhaps if teacher education programs were more open about the difficulties of the profession, teachers would be able to rise to the standard that school districts expect of them. Under the current circumstances, however, many teachers are not taught how to improve. If we want our nation’s teachers to be the best they can possibly be, it is only fair to teach them how to do so.

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