Research shows that the most powerful, in-school influence on learning is the quality of instruction that teachers bring to their students. In the next decade, more than 1.5 million new teachers will be hired for our schools—and that’s a conservative estimate. If they are poorly prepared, this influx of new teachers could block efforts to solve our nation’s education problems and guarantee that the next generation of students will not receive the high-quality education they deserve. Unfortunately, teacher preparation programs may not be up to the task of delivering the teacher workforce we need, and critics have identified lax selection of teacher candidates, coursework disconnected from classroom practice, and weak clinical opportunities as indications that we are inadequately preparing teachers.
For more than 30 years, deans of schools of education, researchers, and teachers have criticized the way we prepare our elementary and secondary school teachers. Recent research shows that there are differences in the effectiveness of the graduates of different teacher preparation programs. Although we do not yet have conclusive evidence, research is beginning to uncover some of the characteristics of successful programs that may explain the effectiveness of their graduates. In addition, characteristics of the candidates themselves also seem to contribute to better teaching from our novice teachers.
It’s time to take a start-to-finish look at teacher preparation. Start by being smarter about how we choose candidates for teaching. Then work for consensus on common knowledge and competencies that all new teachers should be expected to master. Reinvent student teaching by demanding properly prepared mentor teachers, providing more hands-on experience, and being open to new forms, such as the medical model of “hospital rounds,” to offer more varied experiences to teacher candidates. Finally, make teacher certification or licensure matter by requiring rigorous assessments that show mastery of academic content and teaching skills through both written and hands-on evaluations.