There has been a lot of talk lately about teacher preparation reform and as a second-year teacher I have a few opinions on the subject that I thought I should share. There are many types of programs out there to become a teacher and in fact I took a non-traditional route by getting my teaching certification as part of a Master’s degree. I attended a great program in a very forward-thinking area of the nation where there were great schools and resources for learning to be a teacher. Still, I remember how difficult my last year as a first-year teacher was and it makes me question the system. I am highly motivated and have pushed myself to learn a lot in these past two years, but I can understand why teacher retention is a problem in this country and I wholeheartedly believe it comes from the preparation teachers receive before joining the trenches.
I remember feeling overwhelmed at various points throughout my first year and I attribute that feeling mostly to the fact that there was never time any real time to reflect on my practices and try to improve them before I made the same mistake in class. With only one full semester of student teaching under my belt (and this is more than a lot of teachers receive) I still lacked the practical experience I needed to handle teaching full-time. It’s not that I couldn’t do it some days, because I did successfully employ strategies that I learned, but I didn’t have time to plan out meaningful lessons and engage with the students like I should as a teacher. I resorted to busywork and hodgepodge tests because that’s all that I had time for. In addition, my mentor teacher and principal came to observe my classroom and sure everything appeared to be in working order but I never got any valuable feedback that would lead me to become the type of teacher I want to be.
As I reflect on this, it leads me to believe that the greatest teachers in America become so by their own volition and not by any preparation program. Nothing in the system promotes good teaching, because the time and resources necessary for anyone to do so simply are not in the equation. Instead, those who want to succeed and change the education of the future do so by sacrificing a lot of their own time and effort to seek out new resources, innovative ways of doing things, engaging professional development, and experimental research.
If I were to give feedback from my experience it would be this: new teachers need a lot more support. New teachers should teach fewer classes and should have time to meet with master teachers in order to plan. Something I feel I have too rarely experienced are engaging moments with colleagues when I could bounce my ideas off of them and revise ways I was doing things. It takes a lot of classroom experience to allay so many dilemmas facing our students and I felt as if I had to battle that every day. Even with all of the stress involved, I survived my first year just fine and actually did teach some things, but the learning curve was steeper than I ever would have imagined. Maybe I did that to myself with only one year of teacher preparation, but from talking to other teachers they all tell the same story. After two years I already feel more accomplished in the classroom and I’m sure by next year things will be even better. I wish there were a way to change the professional development currently in schools. There should be more time allocated for teachers to collaborate with one another and also spend time improving their own craft. I think the way the schedule is now only encourages teachers to cut corners to get through the massive amount of work there is and with no time left in the day the possibility to develop and improve get put on the back burner.
There are many reform measures taking place across the country to help this situation. Some schools have changed the typical schedule and experimented with many ways of accommodating for professional development and breaks. Still, in my second year I already feel frustrated by the confines of the daily schedule and the lack of forward-thinking, transformational leadership. I recently volunteered for a professional development planning day and left from the meeting feeling as if I wasted 8 hours of my time and had nothing to show for it. This happens too often in public education (and probably most jobs for that matter) and it’s a travesty.