The Teacher Training Pathway Doesn’t Matter. What Matters Is That Teachers Stay

Sakimura: 3 key strategies for preparing educators for long-term, committed success in the classroom.

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I’m often asked which route is best for getting more teachers into the profession: traditional, alternative certification, residency, apprenticeship or grow-your-own.

That’s the wrong question.

All these models are needed. All of them can help produce more teachers, whether the applicants are undergraduates, mid-career professionals looking for new ways to serve their communities or longtime classroom aides ready for a different role. But if new teachers last only a short time, the problem is only half solved. The key is figuring out how to both increase access to the profession and prepare effective educators who stay in the job for years to come.

At Deans for Impact, we’ve learned through our work with more than 100 educator-preparation leaders and 190 teacher education programs that three priorities are essential: making training more affordable and accessible; emphasizing practical, hands-on classroom experience; and employing scientifically grounded and equity-oriented practices for both future teachers and their instructors.

Here’s what successful programs do:

First, they provide equitable opportunities for prospective educators to enter teacher education pathways and be successful. Financial support will always be critical, whether that means reducing tuition or providing a stipend or salary during training. But there are other creative ways to draw great candidates.

Odessa College, a two-year school in Texas, has partnered with a local four-year college and school district to offer an accelerated teaching pathway that includes a paid residency. National Louis University in Chicago has courses that start at various times, including nights and weekends, for aspiring teachers juggling jobs or family commitments.

Second, they require aspiring teachers to practice their craft throughout their preparation. Practice is essential to learning to teach. But the model of some period of coursework followed by student-teaching is outdated. A hands-on component should be integrated throughout the design of a teacher-preparation program so candidates begin practicing almost from the start.

Austin Peay State University, which houses the first federally registered apprenticeship pathway in the nation, gets aspiring teachers into classrooms right away, having them work under experienced teachers for three years before graduating. This allows them to learn every aspect of the job, see expert teaching in action and receive ongoing feedback and coaching.

For a decade, Bowling Green State University has required undergraduate teacher candidates to tutor students in local schools. This lets aspiring teachers practice their skills in a more sheltered way, as opposed to being thrown in front of an entire classroom of kids The pandemic allowed Bowling Green to refine this model, shifting the focus from what teacher-candidates would learn and placing an equal emphasis on how these aspiring teachers could support local elementary schools. This has enabled new teachers to build deep relationships with students and develop their muscle memory and confidence with specific instructional skills. The university has found that seeing their students succeed increases these aspiring teachers’ commitment to the profession.

Third, they prioritize the development of content knowledge and scientifically grounded instruction that supports the needs of every student. By understanding and applying principles informed by a scientific understanding of how students learn, aspiring teachers can deliver lessons that engage every student in meaningful learning.

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks has integrated a focus on this science of learning throughout its traditional and alternative certification programs for middle and high school teachers. These aspiring educators are introduced to learning science principles, such as how thinking deeply about content allows students to better remember those ideas. The teachers then apply these concepts in planning and delivering their lessons.

At every stage, they are asked to pay attention to things like making sure every student has the opportunity to engage in the learning by thinking deeply and elaborating on their responses. Importantly, the university has prioritized ongoing collaborative professional learning for their faculty. Rather than each instructor determining what to emphasize, there is a shared understanding of what they will teach, and how.

Nashville Teacher Residency encourages educators to use high-quality instructional materials that aid students in meeting college- and career-ready standards, with principles of learning science embedded into their design. This is driven by a desire to upend the traditional lack of rigorous grade-level content for students of color. Helping future teachers learn how to effectively identify and use high-quality materials instead of designing lesson plans from scratch can increase the likelihood that students will get access to knowledge and skills that can help them thrive in school, with the added bonus that it can lighten the planning load for new teachers.

Around the country, teacher preparation programs are doing amazing work to ensure schools have a diverse, capable, well-prepared cadre of new educators. While these programs differ in many ways, they are all committed to making training more accessible, weaving meaningful practice opportunities throughout and prioritizing scientifically grounded and equity-oriented instruction for future teachers. These strong, comprehensive programs increase early-career teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom and make them two to three times more likely to stay.

It will take a multitude of pathways to create a strong teaching workforce for the future. Instead of asking which is better, ask how to strengthen them all, to ensure schools are filled with professionals who are trained to recognize and attend to the full humanity of the students they serve — for the long haul.

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