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Expert Panel Faces the Challenges of Teacher Prep

by April Hall
 | Jul 19, 2015

teacher prep panel 071915First-year teachers are struggling in the classroom and teacher preparation must be nimble enough to find the challenges and make the necessary improvements. Many of those challenges and more were discussed in depth during the International Literacy Association’s panel, “Cultivating Literacy Achievement Through Quality Teacher Preparation,” held yesterday at the ILA 2015 conference in St. Louis, MO.

About 100 people sat in on the panel, many identifying themselves as administrators and teacher educators with a stake in the future of teacher prep. For those who weren’t able to attend, there was a livestream of the panel online that was free and open to the public, sponsored by JDL Horizons.

Dan Mangan, director of public affairs for ILA, opened the discussion by saying the goal was to “bring about a unique and powerful dialogue by convening voices from all of the key teacher prep stakeholders, including educators, researchers, representatives of national professional organizations, the federal government, and the media to collectively examine how we can better prepare our teachers to drive student literacy achievement.”

Mangan then introduced William H. Teale, professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the school’s Center for Literacy. Teale is also the vice president elect of ILA’s Board of Directors, who takes office directly after the conference.

Teale spoke about cutting through the noise and debate and getting to the research that will point the way toward improvement teacher preparation. To that end, ILA has formed a joint task force with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to “review the research base and report on what the best current scientific evidence tells us about the content and conduct of programs that effectively prepare teachers who can teach reading and writing well.”

“Rather than pointing fingers and fueling the educational wars that have attracted attention in the past, this kind of work provides the information that can improve literacy teacher education for this and the next generation of America’s educators,” he said.

One aspect of ILA’s work in teacher preparation includes revising the group’s Standards for Reading Professionals, which will now be called the Standards for Literacy Professionals. This two-year process began at a meeting in St. Louis Thursday. The standards are used as a basis for certification programs to receive national recognition from Council for the Accreditation of Educators Preparation (CAEP).

“In other words, the standard will need to meet the Goldilocks principle—they cannot be so general as to be meaningless—nor can they be so specific that they are impossible to implement. Rather, they will need to be ‘just right,’” said Rita Bean, Professor Emerita at University of Pittsburgh.

In gathering information about standards across the country, there have been challenges, said Deanna Birdyshaw, lecturer at the University of Michigan.

First, certification guidelines are ever-changing, she said. The current information they have is a snapshot from April to October 2014. Second, many state officials were not well-versed specifically in literacy standards.

Overall, in looking at state standards, Birdyshaw and her team found certification guidelines were not explicit in what literacy educators need to be certified—let alone effective. The team’s next step is to contact every teacher prep program in the country as they have talked to every state’s Department of Education .

The talk then turned to the panel, moderated by Jessica Bock, education reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where the experts opened by talking about the progress that has be made to date in teacher preparation.

“The good thing is people are becoming more aware there is a need for a change,” said Linda McKee, Senior Director of Performance Measurement and Assessment Policy, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). “We’re very aware that changes need to be made, but we’re moving forward in that.”

With changing standards and politically charged revisions and legislations, educators sometimes find themselves at odds with administrators ranging from local school boards to the U.S. Department of Education.

A former classroom teacher, panelist Laurie Calvert is now the teacher liaison for USDOE. She said communication and cooperation will be key to improving teacher preparation.

“The Department doesn’t want to attack teacher preparation, we just want more transparency,” she said. After meeting with teachers about a variety of topics, Calvert said the one thing she has seen a group agree on is that the large majority felt unprepared to go into the classroom.

In fact, panelist Louann Reid, professor and chair of the Department of English at Colorado State University and NCTE project lead on the ILA-NCTE teacher preparation taskforce, said teachers in general say their education program did very little to prepare them at all, but in the second and third year in the classroom, they find the usefulness in their training, which may seem contradictory.

“We need more research that will expand our understanding,” Reid said.

There needs more understanding not only between researchers and educators, but between educators as well, panelists said.

McKee suggested “a change in the way we are thinking about working.” She said teachers are siloed within their field, whether that is K–12 education, higher education, or research. She called for a “unified profession.”

“There is an awful lot of opportunity for cultural misunderstanding between K to 12 and higher education,” Reid continued. “Instead, they can work together given the time and resources.”

Bryan Joffe, director of Education and Youth Development for the School Superintendents Association, who also served on the panel, said teacher training programs and schools that feed into each other (revolving students and teachers) should work together to align their culture and challenges with the preparation preservice teachers receive.

As we approach changes in assessment of teacher prep and adjust programs accordingly, panelist Christopher Koch, interim president of CAEP, said stakeholders should be “intentional” and “bring everyone involved to the table.”

He noted that when sweeping movements are made, there is often pushback to undo any changes, which is a waste of time.

In Illinois, he said, officials postponed putting assessments for teachers into place while all parties sat down “to work out a policy that made sense for us. We had buy-in.”

After the discussion, there was a question-and-answer portion that allowed attendees to both give their opinion on what is happening in their field when it comes to preparation and professional development, as well as ask the panelists for their opinion and advice to make teachers’ transition into the classroom smoother and more successful.

The panel was the second of several convenings ILA will host to explore pressing topics in literacy and education. An archive of the panel is available at EduVision.

April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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