Supporting highly effective teacher preparation

What does a highly effective teacher-preparation program look like?

I don’t believe there’s only one answer to this question. Any definitive set of program features might be too rigid to adjust to the circumstances facing programs that are urban or rural, traditional or alternative, graduate or undergraduate, or even post-baccalaureate.

So instead of asking what makes a highly-effective program, we might instead ask what conditions need to be present for a highly-effective program to thrive. Quality is not an accident: We can achieve it if we put the right systems in place to support it.

I was thinking about this during a visit to Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, where my colleagues and I had the opportunity to observe a cohort of teacher candidates from the school-embedded iTeachAZ program. The knowledge, passion, and attitudes of these candidates were impressive. They did not seem like college students taking a program of study, but rather like novice teachers practicing their craft and forming their professional identities.

The iTeachAZ program is challenging. Candidates are in schools five days a week, four days teaching and one day taking courses. While this gives them a sense of what teaching is all about – not to mention a sense of pride – it’s a lot to balance. The program uses professional dispositions and performance assessments to identify when candidates are having problems, and then either helps them to improve or counsels them out. Staff from the Office of Student Services estimate the program loses about 10 percent of candidates per year.

The features of iTeachAZ are important to the results we saw. Candidates who want to be teachers are being trained to do the actual work, in places it’s actually happening, by people who actually know how to do it – and they’re doing it as part of a community. Their coursework is relevant, taught by experienced teachers who work as iTeachAZ site coordinators, and immediately applied in classrooms. It’s no surprise that district administrators cannot wait to hire candidates from the iTeachAZ program.

The specific features that make iTeachAZ successful might not work in every context. The systems that support the program, however, could be replicated to encourage the growth of other forms of effective teacher preparation.

First, this rigorous program is tied to a comprehensive support and counseling system. This system identifies problems and provides candidates with help getting better or with other options besides a K-12 teaching career. These options include an Education Studies major for those who want to work with students outside of the traditional K-12 teacher career path. This major has grown to become the second largest major in the college, and ASU faculty and candidates treat it as a serious academic option.

Second, Arizona State’s move toward a more rigorous program and higher expectations for its candidates has strong backing from the administration of the university: the president, provost, other colleges, especially arts and science, and even the legal department all work side-by-side. When candidates are counseled out of a teacher preparation program, some take it very hard, as any teacher educator will tell you. Some even threaten, or initiate, legal action. Without support from university administration, including legal support, in place, Arizona State might not have been able to maintain its rigorous approach.

Finally, the conditions that allow a high-quality teacher-preparation program to work also extend beyond the university. District and school personnel, from superintendents to principals to teachers, have bought in to iTeachAZ. Districts are eager to get iTeachAZ candidates and to hire them at graduation, and candidates reported that they felt like they were part of their school faculties, doing the real work of teaching. “We don’t feel like students,” one teacher candidate told our team, “we are professionals.”

From what we saw, these teacher candidates appeared ready to move into the classroom with the skills and confidence they need. The structure of the iTeachAZ program model deserves a lot of credit for this. But as the field of teacher preparation looks to up its game, I hope that teacher educators are thinking not only about program structure, but also about infrastructure, the supports that make highly-effective teacher preparation possible.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about the educator-preparation programs led by Deans for Impact members. The posts reflect insights from Deans for Impact Learning Tours, multi-day visits by staff and member deans to programs led by our members. These visits are opportunities for transparent discussion about the triumphs and the challenges involved in implementing the guiding principles of Deans for Impact.

Steve Wojcikiewicz

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