AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Noted Expert Discusses Teacher Prep
with AFT Task Force

What do new teachers need to be prepared for that all-important first day of class? The AFT's Teacher Preparation Task Force is tapping the most respected education experts to find out. Linda Darling-Hammond, the professor who launched the Stanford University Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network, joined the task force Feb. 28 to share her expertise.

Most important, she said, better preparation for all teachers could begin to correct inequities. Today, low-income, high-need schools often attract the least-prepared teachers, who are willing to accept the low salaries offered there. They often come from abbreviated teacher training programs that fail to give them the skills they require to serve these neediest of students. If teacher preparation were more standardized, every teacher would be classroom-ready, even those in the highest-need schools.

The AFT task force includes 14 members from the union's teacher and higher education divisions. Their work will continue through July, when they will produce a set of recommendations. (See earlier story.)

Darling-Hammond showed the group a video of good teaching, pointing out best practices that have long been recognized as effective: engaging students, assigning ambitious tasks, using a variety of teaching approaches, and constantly assessing student learning for revision. "We know good teaching when we see it," she said. "We need to clarify it so it's not magic fairy dust."

Effective education systems are no mystery, either. Just look at nations that lead in education, like Singapore, Finland and Korea. They have, noted Darling-Hammond, strong child welfare systems, equal resources for every school, equal access to a rich curriculum and heavy investment in teacher preparation. Education students attend school for free and collect a salary while they train; they complete two to three years of graduate-level education, and professional development continues for as many as 20 hours a week, plus 12 additional days a year. Preparation includes intensive mentoring, clinical training in model schools, peer observation and coaching.

Such success is not beyond reach in this country, and Darling-Hammond says there are already some 200 effective teacher training programs in the United States, including the one at Stanford. The programs stress content as well as pedagogy, and often combine student teaching with simultaneous coursework; that way, students can practice the theory they get from their professors in an actual classroom.

Task force members, whose time with Darling-Hammond was part of a three-day meeting, had plenty of their own experiences to add to the discussion. They covered teacher prep curriculum, clinical training, entrance and exit requirements, and assessment of teacher training programs, among other things. [Virginia Myers]

March 1, 2012