Better Teacher Preparation Will Meet Future Classroom Challenges

Teachers face significant challenges to being successful in today’s classroom — from adapting to new technologies to facing pressure to accommodate all the needs of a diverse student population.

Researchers at ETS believe that improving the quality of teaching will require upgrading teacher preparation by focusing on the actual work that teachers do in the classroom with students. Increasingly, teacher preparation programs are accomplishing this by focusing on the high-leverage practices, or core practices, that make up the work of teaching.

“There is more recognition that knowing the subject and content is not sufficient. It’s how to teach in a way that’s meaningful, including taking into account student misconceptions and how to address those. Some of what we know about the quality of teaching has changed and how that translates into expectations has changed,” says Rick Tannenbaum, ETS’s General Manager of Research & Development.

Geoffrey Phelps, ETS’s Managing Senior Research Scientist, adds that “there is a huge sea change where the focus is now on content knowledge used in teaching practice and, as soon as you say that, then preparation becomes really important.” The traditional route of teacher preparation has been through school of education programs, most of them consisting of two years, including 10 to 12 weeks of student teaching.

However, Tannenbaum worries about the schools of education being able to keep up with the changes in today’s classroom and what will likely be needed in the near future. He sees this being partly due to educator programs not having the resources needed to develop effective competency-based programs.

Some of what we know about the quality of teaching has changed and how that translates into expectations has changed.

~ Rick Tannenbaum

Melody Schopp, the former Secretary of Education for South Dakota who also taught for 25 years, said national accreditation requirements may be a factor in holding back the schools of education. “National accreditation has been a barrier in the past for schools of education to make the changes necessary to train teachers in the competency-based model. Changes are occurring that should help to make a significant difference in the future of teacher preparation.”

Schopp has seen the shift in attitudes of teachers over the course of her career. “I talk to young people about the profession all the time and they want more collaboration and more planning,” she says, joking, “That would not have been on my list. It was so different when I was teaching. We didn’t share and the competition was to have the best bulletin boards. It was so simplistic.”

What has also changed, according to Phelps, is the style of teaching. “It was much more common 50 years ago to have students memorize facts and to solve math problems in certain ways. Now, the emphasis is to learn how to work different methods. The fundamental structures are more complicated,” he says.

Despite that, Phelps says, “I’m very optimistic about the focus on practice. Even though there are realities in the educational system that will make it a challenge, preparation around teaching is the right focus. This is what we should be doing.”