In an effort to help novice teachers transition from a learning environment to a teaching environment, the National Education Association has been working on strategies to better support, train, and prepare these burgeoning educators.
“My barber has to prove that he is prepared to be a barber and earn a license before he is allowed to cut my hair, yet some states and districts allow individuals to be in charge of classrooms and student learning before proving that they should be there,” says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Every student deserves to have a profession-ready teacher.”
On March 25, the NEA hosted a conversation among education experts that focused on the best practices and methods for creating profession-ready teachers.
The event featured opening remarks from NEA President Van Roekel and a panel of educational experts that was moderated by Sharon Robertson, President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Featured speakers included Ann Nutter Coffman, Senior Policy Analyst with NEA; Andy Coons, Chief Operating Officer at the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards; Elena Silva, a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; and Katherine Young, a social studies teacher from Montgomery County, Md. who recently completed a teacher residency and is beginning her teaching career.
The conversation followed up on the recent release of an NEA report that examined the role of teacher residencies in creating profession-ready teachers. The report, “Teacher Residencies: Redefining Preparation Through Partnerships,” shared NEA’s assessment of a variety of teacher residency programs from across the country. The findings indicated that residency programs allowed soon-to-be teachers the opportunity to rise above the “traditional” learning experiences and gain much needed hands-on experience in classrooms.
Katherine Young, who recently completed a teacher-prep program before she became a full-time teacher, said that her residency was, “without a doubt the most challenging year of my 24 years of life.”
But Young was also quick to point out that she wouldn’t change the experience at all and that it gave her a solid, if rigorous, foundation for entering the classroom.
“During your student teaching year, you have the support of your mentor teacher, entire school staff, administration, peers, and professors,” she says. “So I can give you a long, long list of the hardships I faced while student teaching, but at the same time I can provide you with evidence of how I was supported through each one of those challenges. That’s really what this teacher residency is about—going through those challenges with your peers but having all the support necessary to make you profession ready.”
The teacher residency required Young to spend hours learning how to execute lessons, assess student mastery, and reflect on what her students learned and what they didn’t, and then creating solutions for improvement. For part of her program, Young was even required to record herself student teaching in a classroom and then was asked to review the recordings afterwards to examine her own teaching style in action.
When it came time for her first year as a newly minted teacher, Young found that she was more than ready to meet the professional demands of teaching.
“I was professionally ready that first year because of my teacher residency,” she says. “I was even able to provide advice and share ideas with veteran teachers from the professional development classes that I took.”
While teacher residencies are one route for preparing new teachers, creating a culture of mentoring and collaboration on the school level allows first year teachers to better transition into the school environment. As the experts discussed during their conversation, having experienced mentors and supportive teaching partners gives these first-year teachers the opportunity to meet the day in and day out challenges as they arise.
“Creating a culture of collaboration, providing mentoring and peer support, and having strong student teaching experiences are all essential in creating profession-ready teachers,” says Andy Coons.
But all too often, implementation of these proven practices and methods of support vary widely from school to school and district to district. Depending on the school environment a new teacher finds themselves in, they can either receive a wealth of supportive advice and hands-on encouragement, or little to no additional support. That kind of dichotomy in follow-through can ultimately be the difference between a good teacher staying in the classroom or quickly looking for another field of work.
“We don’t have schools that are ready for profession-ready teachers,” says Elena Silva. “There are some root causes and some root problems that we’re not really addressing when we say that we’re going to create teachers that can do all of this, and then sending them into a situation where of course it’s hit or miss. The idea, to me, that we would improve teachers is an important one, but we have to improve the design of schools so that it works for teachers.”
The most obvious solution to this breakdown in implementation is through collaboration and partnerships. Teachers, administrators, and education organizations need to come together and streamline the process through a unified voice that speaks for the profession at-large. Conversations need to be held to address the gap between teacher preparation programs on the university level and the on-the-ground realities in the schools. And new teachers must be adequately prepared in advance to enter the classroom, while also receiving additional hands-on support to ensure a successful and long-lasting teaching career.
“We each have our piece of the puzzle,” says Andy Coons. “This is an amazing opportunity for us to coalesce as a profession and really define what it takes to become a teacher.”