Friday, April 25, 2014

What was missing?

Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation
"Virtually every school I go to, I ask teachers whether they were prepared when they first entered the school or the profession," Duncan said. "There's often a good deal of nervous laughter," he said, before teachers confess that they were nowhere near ready for the job. [Politico, 4/25/14]
"Often the vast majority of schools, "  [Duncan] said, "when I talk to teachers, and have very candid conversations, they feel they weren't well prepared." [New York Times, 4/25/14]
Something is missing from this assessment of teacher preparation. A good educator might follow up with, "So what was missing?" Either Secretary Duncan did not ask that question, or he did not believe the teachers' answers were worth sharing.

I am just imagining here, but based on my experience with new teachers, I might predict that they would respond to, "what's missing?" with:

  • I wasn't prepared to have to turn my back on all the promising practices I learned in my teacher preparation program just because my district's instructional approaches are stuck in the 19th Century.
  • I wasn't prepared to focus so much on test-prep. Don't those who clamor for accountability understand that test are only one measure of learning?
  • I wasn't prepared for the poverty some of my kids deal with. Why are we ignoring this issue?
  • I wasn't prepared for how much of my own money I would need to spend on school supplies.
  • I wasn't prepared to be attacked from all sides. Why do some many people hate teachers?
However, I might be wrong, so let's ask these new teachers what was missing from their teacher preparation program (if anything) before we go about trying to fix it. It is a poor teacher who tries to educate without adequate assessment. I learned that from the College of Education that I attended.

(4/30/14): The 62% number comes from 2006's Educating School Teachers.
(4/26/14): My wife did some research and found out why teachers leave. Spoiler: it's not because they were underprepared by their teacher preparation program.


  1. Great piece. Here are the three things that I found surprised "unprepared" novice teachers the most: #1) How many of their students were on IEPs, and needed special instruction they were not ready to provide; #2) How many of their students did not speak English as first language--and how to cope with that; #3) How to communicate effectively with parents and families. Lately, I've been observing a 4th thing--how to cope with shared, outdated, not-enough-bandwidth technologies while being expected to deliver "21st century education."

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious to the Secretary of Education.

  2. I agree, it does nobody any good to talk about how teachers are unprepared for the classroom without getting into WHY they are unprepared (unless you are just trying to disparage teachers in general). As you mentioned above, most of these factors are systemic in nature and highlight some larger, societal issues (poverty- why do we avoid talking about opportunity gap when discussing achievement gap?). I especially identify with Nancy's 4th point right now in my school.
    As a 2nd year Special Education teacher, Nancy's first point really hits home. I was surprised to learn how different teacher preparation programs are for SPED and Gen Ed teachers. Sometimes we talk right past each other, using the same words to mean different things. I would really like to see SPED and Gen Ed do more to collaborate and work together. At most teacher prep programs, there is no overlap between professors or coursework. As a profession, we could do better to learn from each other to meet the diverse needs of our students.