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Challenge: Getting students in classrooms

January 26, 2011
Dwight C. Watson
Des Moines Register
January 11, 2011

A recent report "Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers," conducted by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the American Association of Teacher Education (AACTE)  gave me an opportunity to gaze into the mirror of public scrutiny to ask "Are we, at the University of Northern Iowa, the fairest in the land?" 

If I held UNI’s teacher education program up to the panel’s recommendations, are we in alignment or is alignment an achievable goal? The recommendations of the panel are more rigorous and include greater accountability; strengthening candidate selection and placement; revamping curricula, incentives, and staffing; supporting partnerships; and continuous improvement.

The most pervasive recommendation from the panel is that teacher education programs should be more clinical based, more selective in students and more intentional in placement in pre-K through 12 education settings. Terms like residency model or rounds are used to indicate that teacher preparation should adopt a medical profession preparation model. Students at UNI already have scaffold learning experiences ranging from Level I observations and tutoring to Level IV student teaching --16 weeks of student teaching across two eight-week placements. In addition, future teachers are in K-12 classrooms and community agencies as a part of other course work.

"Is this enough?" isn't the question, the question would be "Are these quality experiences or just a series of check-offs?" The panel recommends residency in which students would start their teaching careers under the supervision of a university supervisor and a veteran teacher. Some may view this as student teaching, but a residency model requires full-time immersion into teaching and compensation as a resident from the school district.

Dr. Nancy Zimpher, president of the State University of New York (SUNY) and co-convener of the panel, stated that in order for residential programs to be enforced we would need total community buy-in. She noted that teacher education should not be a cottage industry of path breaking initiatives, but an entire nation of excellent programs. The residential program will allow student teachers and their partnered school district to create their own contextual learning experience.  

I agree that this residential model is an ideal, but UNI graduates more than 500 students per year and to orchestrate such a residential experience would mean that we would have to be far more intentional about our collaborative partnerships. We would have to determine if our community has the human and financial resource capacity to support an extensive residential model for 500 students per year. In doing so, we will be acting on another of the panel’s recommendations which is to solidify community partnerships. In order to manifest these partnerships, state policies should provide incentives and remove any inhibiting legal or regulatory barriers.

Another recommendation is that of rigorous accountability: requiring programs to be accountable for how well they address the needs of schools and help improve pre-K through 12 student learning. This recommendation is one that UNI in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education is addressing with the Teacher Quality Partnership grant. This project creates an assessment model for student teachers and new teachers so they can be more intentional about their students' learning and achievement.

In conclusion, the panel’s recommendations are ones that I think UNI can embrace as we set our strategic directions and think broadly about reshaping the future of teacher preparation. We too recognize that our programs need to be revisited as we prepare teachers for the realities of today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms.