Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Preparing Teachers For The Real World...

Last night educators from around the world descended on Twitter to participate in the weekly conversation known as #edchat. This week participants voted to talk about what colleges and universities can do to better prepare Pre-Service Teachers before they begin their careers as educators. Most were in agreement that our current system, while doing the best they can, needs improvements. Here is just a sample of what was said:

  • Schools of education should help pre-service teachers develop plns (Professional Learning Networks) and find ways to have those pre-service teachers observe classrooms as soon as possible in their education.
  • I think teachers need mentors for first year who want to mentor the teacher. I think they should teach effective integration of technology and action research for classroom management, etc.
  • First students must spend time in schools observing a variety of teachers and see how they teach and run their classrooms. Students need to have an excellent background in their subject area, a lot of training in classroom management and lesson planning. Of course, they also need to be skilled in the latest technology that they will hopefully have in their classrooms. Schools of Education should work together with school districts to provide training programs for Cooperating Teachers and mentors.
  • To prepare pre-service teachers: Spend as much time in the classroom as possible. I was in the classroom all four years of my teaching degree...outstanding experience! As much time observing master teachers as possible, in a lot of different grade levels and disciplines (library, tech, classroom, science, etc.) Learn how to write a lesson plan and curriculum that is standard aligned (we did this and had to teach a lesson to fellow teachers...they critiqued with great feedback). How to interact with parents and family of a student. Learn what to do in extreme situations (i.e. if a child is being abused, divorcing families, terminal illness of a family member, etc.) Learn how to integrate tech well. Learn how to write a grant. Learn how to build and sustain a PLN.
  • Pre-service teachers need less time in their college classrooms and more time in real world classrooms. They should be required to do st. teaching in more than one school/ district, so they can get a taste of urban vs suburban or rural and different socioeconomic levels. Schools of Ed need to hire educators who are still involved in real-world K-12 ed, either as teachers, admins, mentors, even volunteers. How can someone effectively prepare students to become successful teachers in today's schools if he/ she is not completely familiar with what today's schools are like? Nothing is static, everything changes. If you retired from the classroom years ago, how do you know what you are preparing your pre-service teachers for?
  • Remind them that they are special, wonderful and valuable people because they won't hear that enough.
You can read the entire archive of the #edchat here.

While several themes kept coming up over and over again there was one that most agreed was crucial; the need for Pre-Service teachers to spend as much time in the classroom as possible. Most agreed that having a firm understanding of theory is important. However, it is just that, theory. It is vital that those wishing to teach and be educators see what other educators do everyday. What I kept hearing was that there are so many varied requirements for observations and student teaching from around the country.

Personally, I was required to to spend almost 300 hours in a several types of classrooms before I was allowed to enter my Education program. After completing several educational foundations courses I spent over 3000 hours in classrooms working with teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members. At the time I wondered if it was all worth the time and effort. But when I got my first teaching job, I was thankful I had so much time spent, not in a college classroom but in real classrooms with real teachers.

My situation is not the norm. I heard everything from 1 day a week for 3 years until graduation to 1 day a week the last semester before graduation. Schools of Education need to do better. Teachers will consistently say that, while their classes in college are valuable, nothing prepares them for the "real-world" of teaching then being in the classroom with students. The more experience, the better off all involved, the teacher, students, parents, administrators, will be.

So what do you think? Do Schools of Education adequately prepare Pre-Service Teachers for the classroom. Is there more they could be doing. If you were a Dean what changes, if any would you make?

Image from Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.


  1. As a point of information New York State requires all pre-service teachers to complete 100 hours of classroom observations prior to a student teaching assignment.

  2. @Anonymous,
    That is wonderfut! I wish more states had similar requirements.

  3. here in NZ, pre-service teachers go on "sections" of up to 6 weeks each (in different schools all over the country) where they first observe then teach classes under the wings of their supervisory (on campus) teachers. they are exposed to a variety of ages, levels, and classes while on section.

    i have a trainee with me now on his final 6 week section. he started teaching two of my classes almost immediately. he is responsible for designing his own unit/lesson plans, activities, etc, with supervision/support. he is observed and critiqued not only by me, but also his college instructor, who visits periodically. (he is also responsible to two other teachers, for a total of 5 classes.)

    i retrained as a secondary teacher (from US university teaching) here in NZ, and felt this was a fantastic way to get started in the classroom. we had plenty of theory work in our own classroom when not on section, but let's face it - none of that prepares you for the reality of being on your own in front of 30 kids in real life!

    observation is not equal to actual teaching. while observation is a great way to learn about teaching styles and classroom management, it is hands-on teaching where you can develop your own style and learn to *handle* classroom management that gives you the most important experience prior to that first job.


  4. As a recent graduate (teacher for 3 years now) I agree with you - universities need to provide better Education programs. I felt as though I didn't get enough classroom experience, even though I spent about 500 hours doing pre-service teaching. I felt I learnt more in my first month of teaching as a "fully qualified" teacher, than i learnt in the 5 months (spread over 2 years) of pre-service training. I also felt like a lot of the classes we had to do at university were absolutely pointless. There was so much more to learn about the classroom that we didn't get in a university classroom.

  5. Steven - Congrats for a very informative blog. I'd like some support on two issues. One is that I am developing a teacher training (for university teachers) course about using Web2.0 tools in the classroom so I'd like to know if you have suggestions or resources available that would help me with this. Second, I would very much like to learn more about building a professional learning network. I see you tweet and blog about it frequently but I can't find more info about how to go about doing it. Thanks a bunch.