Building a better pipeline by preparing educators

September 29, 2022 6:00 am
Retired and current educators protest outside a recent public meeting to discuss a new Tennessee education funding formula. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Retired and current educators protest outside a recent public meeting to discuss a new Tennessee education funding formula. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Educators are concerned about the quality and quantity of applicants entering the field of education. 

Talented adults who want to teach find there are too many barriers to entry into the field as they attempt to address the onerous licensure system. Teachers themselves have often been catalysts for innovative solutions to the many challenges facing education. But with the ongoing teacher shortage, current educators are frequently left out of the debate.

Organizations like mine take a keen interest in the next generation of educators. Our effort is focused on how to improve the experience and support as they transition from teacher candidates to classroom teachers. Tennessee has outstanding colleges and universities. However, we also place obstacles in the way of our colleges of education and then criticize them unjustly. Representatives of colleges must also be at the table as we address this mission-critical subject: We view them  as indispensable partners in our work. 

Effective educator preparation remains critical to the future of education in Tennessee. As a state, we have already focused on admission requirements in educator preparation programs. Research is mixed on the relationship between academic admission requirements and teacher candidates’ later effectiveness levels. This provides an opportunity for needed research. In most cases, candidates to teach must have a minimum GPA of 2.75 and a minimum ACT score of 21 out of a maximum 36 or an SAT score of 1020 out of 1600 for admission to an educator preparation program.

In 1986, education school deans from the top universities developed a critical report that attributed much of the blame for struggling public schools to the training teachers were receiving in college. Although we spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours on teacher preparation courses, we really do not have research to support some of the requirements in colleges of education. 

We need to look at the Praxis exam — a test of knowledge and skills needed for classroom teaching — and see how it aligns with content, and possibly reconsider the use of EdTPA. Alabama suspended use of the Praxis exam for two years to examine it and address teacher shortage issues, but we want to keep lofty standards. Policymakers do not know how to measure and define a successful teacher training program. So, we should bring our institutions and educator prep programs together at the Tennessee General Assembly and give them a platform to address problems and find solutions.  

The dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan has suggested an innovating idea for preparing teachers to be in classrooms: Similar to the way physicians are trained, new teachers will intern as a group, training at a single school and remaining there for the next three years.

Policymakers should invest much more time and resources into learning about the science of teaching and how individual teachers develop their skills—and how long it takes to develop some of those skills—and what changes are needed. Policies currently reflect the fact that we know far more about a teacher after they enter the classroom than before. Besides calculating how many have completed an Educator Prep Program, other important benchmarks we should look at include identifying those who actually enter the field and teach, and how long these teachers remain in the profession.   

Change may be on the horizon, as the University of Michigan is making some interesting shifts. They are moving to end the longtime practice of sending educators into their own classrooms after just a few months of student teaching. 

Elizabeth Moje, the dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan, has suggested genuinely innovative methods based on the way doctors are trained — that will extend teacher training through their first three years on the job, supporting them as they take on the daunting responsibility of educating children. The teacher intern program at Michigan would be the first dramatic upheaval in the way teachers are trained in this country in at least a generation—an upheaval that has been a long time coming. 

In brief, their innovative approach is like a teaching hospital, where future teachers — called interns — will train together under a single roof. They will complete their student teaching there. Then, instead of heading out in search of a job in another school, they will stay on for three more years as full-time, fully certified teaching “residents.”  

Residents will not be trainees. They will be real classroom teachers working with real children and making a real salary — the same as any other first-, second-, or third-year teacher. But, unlike their peers in traditional schools, they will continue to learn from their professors and will closely work with the veteran teachers — called attendings — who will make up most of the school’s teaching staff.

Each educational preparation program has its own approach to supporting teacher candidates, and our organization tries to fill in gaps with our student members. It is critical to walk the fine line between informing teacher candidates with needed information  and overburdening them with too much.  We try to touch on issues such as legal and professional development, including some specific tools for student teachers which include assistance to student teachers with lesson planning, as well as classroom management. 

The existing teacher shortage — especially in special education, math, and science, and in schools serving students of color, low-income students, and English learners — will only increase, based on the predicted increase in the school-going population in the future. 

Colleges of education must also address how to serve Career and Technical Education (CTE). Areas such as business, agriculture, health, automotive, and mechatronics programs need high-quality teachers. We should also consider how to better build the skills of paraprofessionals who collaborate with teachers in classrooms in critical roles.

There is not any magic bullet to ensure that all teachers are great before they begin teaching. However, we can make the effort to equip our educators with skills for the modern age. We must make changes in how we prepare those who educate our children. What worked in the past no longer works.

Policymakers and stakeholders need to work together to make necessary changes to benefit our students and ensure that quality educators enter and remain in the profession. Together we can make schools a better place for teachers to work and for our students to learn.

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J.C. Bowman
J.C. Bowman

JC Bowman is the Executive Director & CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee. He began his career in education in Tennessee public schools, where he taught high school social sciences and special education for thirteen years. He has been the executive director of Professional Educators since 2011.