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Early in our nation’s history, there was no such thing as compulsory education, nor formal teacher education.  That changed with the introduction of “Normal Schools”, two-year teacher preparation programs that, in time, largely changed again to state universities with education majors, among other choices.  At today’s SXSWedu , there was talk of not only the current limitations of much of our teacher preservice education, but also about new approaches that hold promise for the profession and, we hope, outcomes for kids.   The movement, consistent with a report from NCATE, is to integrate more, and more ongoing clinical practice throughout the course of teacher education.  No more Miss Johnson coming for the final 10 weeks of her teacher ed program to my 4th grade class to teach us a unit on Japan (although she was spectacular).  That’s so yesterday….so 1970’s.  (Hey, I’m not afraid to date myself!).VT-Road-Marker-1st-Normal-School-Concord

Instead, teachers from programs like Baylor University, a stone’s throw from us here in Austin for this conference (OK, in the big state of Texas, you have to throw a stone pretty far, but I digress) have the opportunity to learn and apply what they’re learning in classroom settings for the duration of their program.  This clinical practice, as it is called, puts the emphasis on learning to teach by doing it in authentic settings, with “real” kids, and with intense supervision through the use of instructional rounds and collaboration with community partners.· It reminds me very much of my own training in graduate school for Clinical Psychology via the Scientist-Practitioner approach, a shift that field underwent….in 1949.  Now I obviously love working in the education sector, but it’s not generally known to be ahead of the curve.  Education: welcome to the party!

With teachers influencing 25% of the variance in student performance, they are the largest influence on student learning outside of other, uncontrollable factors such as SES and parent education.  With great teachers, student learning exceeds expectations: they learn 1.5 years to every year in school.  But the odds of a student getting a great teacher five years in a row?  One in 17,000.  That’s got to change.

As with any skill, great teaching requires practice. Jon Englehardt, Dean at Baylor’s School of Ed, gets feedback that his first year teaching graduates have the knowledge and skills of teachers that have been in the field three times longer.  That can make a difference.  That can cultivate great teachers.  That can introduce Miss Johnson, teacher ed candidate, to the classroom earlier and more often, allowing her to do more than one unit on Japan.  Give us more of Miss Johnson.  She was fantastic.  And maybe we helped her learn too.

Is it a game-changer for education?  Can a preservice model that merges theory, but wraps it around extensive, supervised practice be the “New Normal?” for teacher ed?  Let’s keep an eye out for the data as graduates and their outcomes are tracked over time.  For now, I’m hopeful that even if education is a bit late to this game, they’ll play it to win.

– Allison

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