What Matters in Teacher Preparation?

What Matters in Teacher Prep 2In recent years, concerns have emerged regarding the preparation of new teachers and their ability to work effectively in today’s complex classrooms.  Some entities have criticized traditional teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities particularly, focused on perceived weaknesses in content courses and field experiences.

The Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut has been preparing teachers for almost 75 years and is a recognized leader in teacher preparation by organizations such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, particularly in the areas of program innovation and school placements.  We conduct world-class research and collect extensive data from our students, graduates, and school districts that keep us focused on what works about our program and where we need to improve. Based on the evidence we have gathered, we can say unequivocally that high quality teacher education programs include the following elements.

First, it is our firm belief that not all can be teachers.  Teacher preparation programs must be selective in admissions.  They should not only examine the applicants’ GPA but also their academic course work to ensure extensive subject knowledge.  They should evaluate applicants’ emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, require experiences in working with educators and students, and establish their commitment to education, social justice, and equity.

Second, effective teacher preparation programs must combine strong content preparation with pedagogical knowledge and skills.  Professors in education must work closely with professors in arts and sciences and school partners to ensure what is being taught reflects the reality of the schools and is aligned with standards.  This means, for example, that students in mathematics teacher preparation programs have a solid grasp not only of mathematics, but also how to teach math effectively in real-world classrooms.

Third, teacher preparation programs must instill in their students the dispositions required to be effective teachers.  Future teachers must become reflective practitioners so that they have the ability to ask critical questions about their own practice.  They must possess a high commitment to teaching as a profession; and to equity, fairness, and diversity.

Fourth, according to national experts, a key element for successful learning is the opportunity to apply what is being learned and refine it; teacher preparation is learning about practice in schools.  Professor Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford University suggests that strong teacher preparation programs have “a common clear vision of good teaching that permeates all course work and clinical experiences…” and they have “extended clinical experiences … that are carefully chosen to support the ideas presented in simultaneous, closely interwoven course work.” Such meaningful field experience must be extensive and involve experiences working with learners from diverse socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, religious backgrounds, and those who have special learning needs including English as a second language.

Finally, it is imperative that teacher preparation programs establish a systemic mechanism to gauge the learning of their students.  Through a series of key assessments from the beginning to the end of the preparation programs, students must demonstrate how well they have learned the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required to be good initial teachers.  Strong programs collect, analyze, and report student performance data so that they cannot only help individual students, but also make overall program improvements.  Teacher preparation programs should also track their graduates and understand how they perform in schools after they become teachers.

Selectivity, strong content and pedagogical knowledge, dispositional training, field experiences throughout the program, along with systemic assessment mechanisms matter the most to a successful teacher preparation program.  This spring, the Connecticut Educator Preparation Advisory Council has reaffirmed the value of these elements in their guidelines.  Such guidelines reflect knowledge and evidence from teacher preparation educators, school leaders, and policy makers.  The Neag School of Education at UCONN is committed to supporting this work and is looking forward to discussing the specifics with the Council in the coming year. While we are always open for feedback, we are confident that we have a strong and effective teacher education program.  We are confident that our efforts to assess our program are comprehensive and valid.  Our confidence is evidence-based and in the University’s long tradition of service to the State.

At the Neag School of Education of the University of Connecticut, Dr. Yuhang Rong serves as the Assistant Dean, Dr. Marijke Kehrhahn serves as the Associate Dean and Dr. David M. Moss serves as the Interim Director of Teacher Education and as an associate professor for elementary education. All three contributed to this article.