University of Michigan revamping the way it trains future teachers
That’s all the time that professors and instructors at the University of Michigan’s School of Education have to turn students into competent teachers.
“This is almost the premature gestation of a professional,” said Bob Bain, an associate professor in the school. “I don’t think the public understands how complicated teaching is and how much goes into it.
“We’ve found that we need to be way more intentional about preparing a teacher to be in the classroom.”
The overhaul has led to changes in everything from curriculum at the school to a change in what U-M calls the students it sends out into classrooms. Out are “student teachers.” In are “teacher interns.”
“There’s a lot that goes into teaching beyond just knowing the content,” said Deborah Lowenberg Ball, the dean of the School of Education. “We’re really focusing on building those skills.
“If you’re going to be a good teacher, you need to know the content very well. You need to know the math, the English, but you also need to know how to talk to a (student), how to manage a classroom.”
Laurie Sleep, the associate chairwoman of the elementary teacher education program, puts it slightly differently.
“You may know math, but do you know how to teach math?” she said. “We’re really working to better integrate the teaching part into what we are teaching (our students).”
In many ways, the teacher education program is shifting to be more along the lines of medical training, working on “clinical skills” and sending students out on “rounds” in area classrooms, U-M officials said. The changes are also a key part of the Mitchell/Scarlett University of Michigan partnership in the Ann Arbor school district. The program will pair teacher candidates at U-M with teachers at Mitchell Elementary School and Scarlett Middle School with the goal of building teaching skills and improving student achievement.
Elementary teacher training
Practice, practice, practice followed by a lot of review is how those in charge of teaching future elementary school teachers describe the new program.
The university started rolling out the changes this fall and plans to have the completed program in place for students who enroll in the fall of 2012.
Much of traditional teacher education focuses on having students talk about teaching, read about teaching or write about teaching, Elizabeth Davis, the chairwoman of the elementary teacher education program said.
“We want to have a deliberate focus on practice,” Davis said. “We want to have our interns learn how to do the work of teaching.”
The students start with basic teaching skills, like how to write on a board.
It’s a simple sounding thing to do, Davis said. But it’s not.
How do you keep control of the classroom while writing? How do you decide what parts of the student’s response to record on the board? How do you drive the conversation towards the learning you want students to accomplish?
Students build on their skills throughout their time in the program, Davis said.
So, for example, students may start in a U-M classroom, role-playing how to ask students a question about differences between night and day. Then, they’ll move onto a small group of elementary school students and ask the same question in a classroom. Then they’ll move on to a one-on-one conversation with a student. Then, they’ll work on lesson planning and delivery of the topic for a whole classroom.
Along the way, they’ll be videotaped and observed by both U-M professors and veteran teachers who will then give feedback.
“We’re working on putting the pieces together,” Davis said. “Being a good teacher is very complex. We want to give the interns as much practice as we can so they can learn the high leverage skills that we’ve learned through research that good teachers have.”
Secondary teacher training
One of the problems with traditional teacher education is that future teachers learn the content in one class, how to teach in another class and then go to a third place, a classroom in the real world, to put it all together, Bain said.
That leaves it up to the prospective teachers to put it all together, said Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor in the School of Education and the associate dean for research for the school.
There wasn’t a lot of putting it all together, Moje said.
“We wanted to find ways to bridge gaps,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time. It’s all about coherence.”
So the school of education is borrowing terminology and strategies from the medical school. Out is the terminology of student teacher. In is teacher intern. In is attending teacher. And in is the concept of rounds.
In the first semester of the program, U-M students travel in groups of four to schools, spending four weeks each in three schools — including an urban high school and a suburban high school. They’ll work with different attending teachers at each stop, allowing them to pick up strategies from the experienced teachers. At the same time, they’ll be in a U-M classroom learning concepts and practicing.
In the second semester, they’ll travel in groups of three teacher interns to two schools — one an exurban middle school and one an independent school like Greenhills in Ann Arbor.
Then, in the third semester, the teaching interns will have a more traditional student teaching semester.
Again, the focus is on building the teaching skills of the student.
A national focus
Reforming the teaching of teachers has been a national topic in recent months. It was the focus of stinging rebuke of the nation’s teacher’s education schools by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in late 2009.
“By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom,” Duncan said in a speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, on Oct. 22, 2009. “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change — not evolutionary tinkering.”
Much of the conversation nationally about producing higher quality teachers has focused on alternative programs such as Teach for America.
But, Duncan pointed out, about 10,000 new teachers a year come from those programs while more traditional schools of education pump out about 220,000 graduates a year.
“To keep America competitive, and to make the American dream of equal educational opportunity a reality, we need to recruit, reward, train, learn from, and honor a new generation of talented teachers,” Duncan said. “But the bar must be raised for successful teacher preparation programs because we ask much more of teachers today than even a decade ago.”
In his speech, Duncan included U-M as one of the few places trying to reform teacher education.
“In the end, I don't think the ingredients of a good teacher preparation are much of a mystery anymore. Our best programs are coherent, up-to-date, research-based, and provide students with subject mastery. They have a strong and substantial field-based program in local public schools that drives much of the course work in classroom management and student learning and prepares students to teach diverse pupils in high-needs settings.”
David Jesse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-623-2534.