In the first two parts of this series, we surveyed various routes to teacher certification and discussed the challenges of learning to manage a classroom. New teachers also need targeted coaching, opportunities to collaborate with and observe experienced teachers, and help with lesson-planning.
Keeping order in the classroom may be the toughest skill for new teachers to master, but lesson-planning is probably a close second.
“Mark,” who quit seven weeks into his first year of teaching at a high-poverty DCPS elementary school, said that he had only a week to plan lessons before school started, with the result that it was a struggle to stay one step ahead of the students. He would routinely put in 10- or 12-hour days, sometimes waking at 3:30 a.m. and arriving at school at 6 a.m., two hours before students.
One problem was that he had planned to teach middle or high school science, not elementary school. So his summer training through an alternative certification program was geared to that subject and age group. He was unfamiliar with the elementary grade-level standards and curriculum, and it seemed that no one was available to explain them to him. With no other teachers at his school teaching the same grade he was, he couldn’t benefit from their experience.
Matching up training with what teachers will actually be doing is a problem for almost all teacher-training programs, since teachers usually don’t have a job lined up when they’re training.
Kylie Hiemstra, a DCPS teacher who came to teaching after earning an undergraduate degree in education, also encountered that problem. She completed her student teaching in a third-grade classroom but got a job teaching first grade, which she found to be very different. She did her training in Virginia, which uses a different set of standards than D.C.
But at Hiemstra’s school, John Eaton in Cleveland Park, there are two other first-grade teachers, both veterans. She meets with them regularly, asks them “a lot of questions” and has had a chance to observe their classes.
Meghan Quigley, in her first year of teaching at a D.C. charter school, is constantly bouncing ideas off the two other fourth-grade math teachers there. The school, Achievement Prep, encourages that back-and-forth by putting teachers’ desks in a common workroom rather than in their own classrooms.
“Greg,” a third-year teacher at a D.C. charter school who is a Teach for America veteran, says that all first-year teachers need help planning lessons. Even if their training corresponds to what they’re teaching, they’re unlikely to know the material well enough to create good lesson plans. Experienced teachers at the school should share their plans, he says. Or, failing that, new teachers should look to online sources such as Betterlesson.com and LearnZillion for good templates for their grade level and subject.
So, is there a method of teacher training that will reliably produce terrific first-year teachers? It may be too soon to know. Residency programs, which train new teachers by having them apprentice alongside an experienced teacher for a year, hold promise.
But they’re still too new and too small to yield enough data to draw definitive conclusions. And, says Michael Goldstein, a founder of the Match Teacher Residency program in Boston, it all depends on whether they’re done well.
[Continue reading Natalie Wexler's post at Greater Greater Education.]
Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education. She is a member of the boards of D.C. Scholars Public Charter School and the nonprofit One World Education. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.