Practice-Based Learning For a Practice-Based Profession
One of the focuses of the Obama administration's education reform efforts is a dramatic overhaul in teacher training. In a speech last October to the University of Virginia, education secretary Arne Duncan asserted that 'teaching should be one of our most revered professions, and teacher preparation programs should be among a university's most important responsibilities.' This proclamation came on the heels of a big speech Duncan made to Columbia University's Teachers College earlier that month, during which he declared that 'America's university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change - not evolutionary tinkering.'
Education experts across the country have echoed that sentiment, pointing to a gap between theoretical teacher education and applied classroom training. Arthur Levine, former dean of Teachers College and president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, has decried the 'yawning chasm of practice and theory between universities and the schools.' Although current teaching schools offer the classroom internships required by state certification boards, the experiences are not typically intensive or well connected to theoretical education. Teaching is a practice-based profession like medicine, and there is a growing sentiment that teachers' colleges should offer the emphasis on hands-on training as medical school.
In an effort to bridge that gap, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has just formed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation, Partnerships and Improved Student Learning dedicated to improving the classroom training of teachers. The plans to make recommendations on how teachers colleges can transform their clinical training by May of this year. They had originally set their sites on December, but James Cibulka, NCATE's president, indicates that they sped up their timeline in response to an environment that is 'ripe for change.'
The committee will be chaired by Dr. Dwight Jones, the Colorado Commissioner of Education, and Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York System and long-time champion of experiential learning for teachers. Other panel members come from all areas of the field, including education policy and research, leaders in higher education and experts in grade school education. The panel hopes to transform clinical preparation practices such that they will train teachers to develop and test their classroom management and pedagogical skills, hone their use of evidence for professional decision making and understand and integrate the standards of their professional community.
In their announcement of the panel, the NCATE notes that successful teacher training should include 'sustained, intense, mentored school-embedded experiences' as well as career-long professional development. Some teachers colleges have already moved in this direction. Boise State University puts their teaching students in the classroom throughout their entire tenure in the program. Sona Andrews, the Boise State provost, notes that this has let the school build strong, mutually-beneficial relationships with local school districts.
Sarah Hall, a second year teacher at Denver Academy, notes that her 'T-1' training year offered her extraordinary opportunities for hands-on training and collaboration. Even in their first year, DA teachers-in-training have the opportunity to work daily with master teachers and interact closely with students. This practice-based learning helped Hall 'transition flawlessly to being independent in the classroom.'
Even schools without a history of strong clinical focus have started to take up the cause. Five years ago, the University of Michigan School of Education launched the Teacher Education Initiative. The initiative was developed to overhaul the school's teacher training program to determine - and teach - the classroom skills that teachers really need. Professor Robert Bain notes that the initiative is moving the school away from a list of required courses for aspiring teachers and toward a program that builds on clinical experiences in the manner of most professional schools similar to 'a good med school or law school.'