I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:
Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.
Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.
My teacher education program was at University XXX, where I was part of the primary/junior cohort (K-grade 6) cohort in the year of 2013-2014. The cohort had a First Nations focus. There were about sixty students from various places, with vast variety of experiences, knowledge, interests and skills. My teacher education program consisted of many strengths and areas of improvement. Due to the areas of improvement, I feel that my teacher education program could have prepared me better.
During my teacher education program at University XXX, I had witnessed many strengths and weaknesses of the program. I will start off by addressing the strengths and then the weaknesses. To begin with, coming to class at XXX everyday was the highlight of my day, as the program culture was very supportive, caring and one that respected diversity. I found all my professors to be extremely genuine and caring, as they treated every single student teacher as a whole (emotionally, physically and mentally). The student teachers in my class were a pleasure to learn with, as we provided one another with assistance with course assignments, we had lunches together in big groups, and we also made time to socialize after class by going to a near by pub. A quote from the article titled Teacher Education at the University of Virginia: A Study of English and Mathematics, that resonated with my experience at XXX, “There, she says, professors worked to create a strong, caring community that respected diversity…. being a part of a strong, supportive community was a key experience” (Merseth & Koppich, p.75). This quotation resonated with my experience at XXX, as I felt part of a community of educators who learned together by supporting one another. However, half way through the program, many students started getting in arguments with one another and complaining how they were not getting a lot out of their teacher education program. My cohort coordinators dealt with the situation in a very positive manner. My coordinators split the class in half, and we had a community circle where a talking stick was used, and everyone had the opportunity to say what was on their mind. Soon enough, the conflict was resolved and strategies were put in place for improvements. In addition to this, another strength of my teacher education program was during my practicum experience at YYY Public School in a grade 4 classroom. One and a half weeks in to my practicum, my associate teacher had been going through a great deal of back pain, to a point where she had to take a couple weeks off and had back surgery. I was in her classroom with a Long Term Occasion (LTO) teacher (supply/substitute teacher), whom I did not get along with as she did not let me teach a single lesson. I gave the LTO teacher a couple of days to settle in, in the hopes of her providing me with a chance to teach my lessons that I had prepared. I felt like a volunteer in her class, and the way she dealt with the students did not fit my teaching philosophy. I remember coming home and crying and making a connection of my experience with the LTO teacher to the song ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus. Although I did have three other student teachers from my class at the same practicum school, I felt like I needed more support. I contacted my practicum coordinator and expressed my concerns with the LTO teacher. My practicum coordinator was very helpful and quick in dealing with the situation, as she had arrived at my practicum school the very next day, and had my placement changed with another associate teacher in the school. I was very impressed with the quick change.
Although my teacher education program had many strengths, through a critical lens, I found there to be a couple of weaknesses/areas of improvement in the program. To begin with, there were sixty student teachers in the class; I feel that class sizes should be smaller; about thirty to forty students maximum. Small class sizes allow for a lot more individual attention, and more critical questioning. Although my cohort had a First Nations focus, I felt that there was not enough infusion. Although we used a talking stick and were exposed to and provided with a certain level of knowledge, we were not provided with First Nation resources such as books, videos or lesson plans to use in class. I would have liked to receive a ‘First Nations Resource Tool Kit’ that had a package of important rituals, resources and activities to do with the students as a starting guide to educating students about First Nations. In addition to this, I did not gain much knowledge from one of my foundations courses. My professor was not an effective educator on this particular subject. I am not even sure up to this date, what I was suppose to learn from that class. My professor was of First Nation descent, which I really valued because I gained an immense amount of knowledge regarding First Nations, however I did not gain an efficient amount of knowledge dealing with the subject I was suppose to be taught. A quote that resonates with this experience is from the article titled How Teachers Learn and Develop, “Teachers are even more important than the material they use because the ways in which they present material highly influence how they are viewed by students” (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, Bransford, et al. p. 384). Another weakness I found in the program was not enough class time; especially in math seeing as how numeracy is really big within school boards and it is the number one subject students struggle with. I found my math class to be very engaging as we had our ‘math tool kit’ that included a variety of manipulatives, however the learning was rush and clustered together due to time constraints.
My teacher education program could have prepared me to fulfill my duties as a teacher more effectively. My teacher education program did not introduce us to the report card system, how to provide students with final grades or about the types of comments one should include in report cards. In addition it would have been beneficial for student teachers to know about specific buzzwords and interview questions that could be asked during school interviews. I would have felt better prepared if my teacher education program provided us assistance and guidance with job search. However, due to the competitive teaching market, my teacher education could have provided us with suggestions of what else we can do with our degree, other than just teaching in a classroom. I also believe that the program could have prepared me better by making the teacher education program for 2-3 years, instead of 1 year. A longer teacher education program would be able to provide students with more practicum experiences, critical thinking, learner- centered teaching, community based activities among diverse groups, and an increased and effective amount of content knowledge that covers all core subject areas. An example of an effective teacher education program is the Curry School of Education, which is a 5 year BA/MT program in Virginia. As stated in the article, by the end of this program “Somebody who comes out of the Curry School is going to be able to walk into a classroom prepared for almost anything. They’ll be knowledgeable in the subject area, knowledgeable in a variety of strategies of teaching methods, of classroom procedures and discipline” ( Merseth & Koppich, p. 64). This is the type of framework and actions that University XXX needs to implement for a more effective and improved teacher education program.
This reflection paper has really provided me with some in-depth insight about my teacher education program. From an overall stance, I had only considered the strengths for the program. Through this paper, I was able to critically assess my teacher education program and what could be done to improve the program for future student teachers.
Some questions that still arise about teacher education programs are: When choosing placements for students, I am aware that the University has relationships among specific schools and teachers that have acted as associate teachers in prior years. Is the health and well being of those associate teachers checked each year? Or are student teachers just paired up with those teachers, because that particular teacher was used in the past? Another question I still have is, when preparing and improving teacher education programs, who has the say and input of what should be improved? How is this determined? Do student teachers have a voice in this? Are their opinions and advice considered for improvements of the teacher education program?
Darling-Hammond.L. (Ed). (2000). Studies of excellence in Teacher Education: Preparation in a five year program. New York: AACTE Publishers. ISBN NO: 0-9654535-5-3
Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (Eds.) (2005). Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. Jossey Bass.