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Getting Ready To Be A Teacher: How Important Is College Choice?

written by: Noreen Gunnell•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 4/30/2011

Teaching is a profession that needs skilled and dedicated professionals. The road to becoming a successful teacher begins with a rigorous teacher education program that prepares its candidates to meet the ever evolving challenges of teaching.

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    Promote Teaching as a Profession

    What role do colleges play in preparing a future teacher to be successful? Colleges contribute significantly to the overall achievement of their prospective educators both as students and graduated, working teachers. Primary among these contributions is the necessity of a comprehensive Teacher Preparation Program with high expectations that produces true professionals.

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    Teacher helping student Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession. Preparation to teach requires a demanding program made up of education, training, and mentoring. Unfortunately, to some, teaching is considered a job not a profession; worse yet, a part-time job. These teaching naysayers list three-o’clock dismissals and summers off as evidence. This not-so-uncommon attitude has created a view of teaching as a non-prestigious career. It has the tendency to keep some skilled and talented candidates from entering the teaching profession, and cause novice and experienced teachers alike from staying in the classroom.

    The last few decades have produced alternate route teacher certification programs that while of a stellar quality in some states, are less than adequate in others. This and reduced entry qualifications for traditional programs in certain states have resulted in a higher failure and drop-out rate for new teachers. For example more than fifty-percent of Teach for America candidates leave after their third year. [1] Since studies have shown that it takes five years for a new teacher to become highly skilled in all aspects of teaching, students suffer in this situation.

    The truth is professionals in other areas with similar education and comparable work hours, (don’t forget lesson preparation, team meetings, parent-teacher conferences, after and before school assistance to students, professional development, etc.) earn anywhere from 12% to 15% more than teachers. These professionals include accountants, registered nurses, programmers, and reporters.[2] Colleges have to help close this gap by ensuring programs are on par with other professional preparation programs in areas such as law, business, and medicine. Increased prestige can lead to better qualified candidates, higher salaries and both professional and personal fulfillment. Success for individual teachers translates to success for the profession and the seeds for both are found in colleges.

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    Content Education, Pedagogy, and Technology

    A university’s teacher education program must provide academic study on three fronts in order to promote the success of its candidates.

    • Content: A future teacher needs to be confident in what he or she will teach. The curriculum of a teacher education program should include a sufficient amount of coursework in the candidate’s subject area. A teacher will not be successful without a comprehensive knowledge of their content area.
    • Pedagogical Methods: Knowledge of the content is not enough. A prospective teacher must learn how to teach the material. Methods of teaching classes are key to performing well in the teaching profession.
    • Technology: Technology needs to be integrated into lessons, parent-teacher communication, and teacher-student exchanges. A college that does not offer quality technology education to its teacher candidates is not one that will produce effective teachers.
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    Putting It Into Practice: Student Teaching

    The value of clinical practice can not be overstated when it comes to learning how to teach. Classroom management, lesson planning, and gauging students’ reactions are skills that are best learned by doing. If you were to ask recent graduates beginning their teaching careers, “What role do colleges play in preparing a future teacher to be successful?” their answers would probably cite student teaching as the most significant feature of their education. In studies conducted in 1991 and 1992, teachers ranked student teaching as the most useful of teacher preparation program features.[3] Teacher educators agree and, in 2010, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education asked education schools to require their students to complete 450 hours of clinical practice before being eligible for a teaching certificate. [4]

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    Career Advisement

    Universities and colleges should work with teacher candidates on their choice of specialization. If a majority of education students enter the Elementary Education program, there may not be enough Elementary teaching positions available for them. Areas in which there are teacher shortages (i.e. Science, Math, and Second Languages) should be encouraged to qualified candidates who are strong in these content areas..

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    [1] Great Teachers for 21st Century Schools (2007), Kansas National Education Association. Page 4.
    [2] Ibid., Page 9.
    [3] To Touch The Future: Transforming The Way Teachers are Taught (1999), American Council on Education. Page 6.
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    Image Courtesy of WiKi Commons, User Afoshee1020

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    Learn more about the teaching profession and teacher education: