Learning to teach — with avatars

No children were harmed in this teacher training exercise. Prospective teachers can practice their teaching skills on avatars in the Teach LivE lab, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report.

“We’re really hoping to make a first-year teacher look like a second-year teacher before they get started,” says University of Central Florida Professor Lisa Dieker. Ten minutes in the simulator is equivalent to one hour in the classroom, UCF estimates.

Teachers-in-training submit their lessons, so the lab staff can program the avatars to make mistakes.

“When we get a request for a lesson on multiplying fractions … then we need to make sure that our students make the errors that are typical,” said Michael Hynes, director of the School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at UCF’s College of Education. “So [the teacher candidates] know they can react to them.”

The software collects data during each training session, tabulating how much time the teacher spent talking to each student. It also records how the teachers responded to certain behaviors so that teachers can review their reactions afterwards.

If teacher candidates are not using good classroom management techniques, students might start to snicker or take out cell phones. Even though the class is small, it’s possible to lose control of students quickly

Each avatar student has a distinct personality from the overachiever to the slacker.  UCF has only five middle-school avatars more, but plans to expand to different grade levels and go into principal training.

“Five years from now, I hope we’ll have 200 kids and you’ll call in and say ‘I would like a bilingual classroom with French and Spanish,’ ” Dieker said. “We would plop in third-grade kids [or] eighth-grade kids and ninth-grade kids, and people can customize the system.”

The story is part of the Hechinger Report’s teacheredpalooza, which includes stories on recruiting the best people to teaching, evaluating the quality of teacher education in Florida and in California, Do new exams produce better teachers? and alternative routes to teaching.

UM crafts national standards for teacher ed

The University of Michigan’s TeachingWorks is developing national standards for teacher education, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Aspiring English instructors were supposed to be mastering their craft in the teacher education class Francesca Forzani observed.

Forzani, a former English teacher, looked on in horror as the students spent an entire semester debating what a high school reading list should look like. More contemporary or classical literature? Perhaps multicultural books?

“They never practiced anything as simple as introducing students to a text,” said Forzani, who observed the class as part of an auditing process.

Forzani, associate director of TeachingWorks, said education professors discuss issues and theories but devote too little time to the practical challenges of teaching. As a result, more than 60 percent of teachers say they weren’t prepared for the classroom in a federal survey.

TeachingWorks will stress “leading a classroom discussion, crafting small-group projects and conferencing with parents”  and 16 other teaching skills.

. . . the goal of TeachingWorks is to highlight traits that every good teacher needs, whether the fourth-grade math class they’re leading is in Tacoma or Tampa.

Forzani hopes TeachingWorks’ standards will be used not just by college-based teacher education programs but also by alternatives such as Teach for America.

Brown: New teachers need apprenticeship

Ed Week‘s Teaching Ahead asks young teachers how teacher preparation should be changed. Several teachers who started after a crash course in teaching over the summer say they needed much more time to learn the job, though a graduate of teachers’ education also says she wasn’t prepared for classroom realities.

Time to Practice Is a Need, Not a Luxury, writes Dan Brown, who taught fourth grade for a chaotic year in the Bronx with alternative certification and eventually earned a master’s degree in education.

Looking back, my ignorance was staggering. I had bought—with the help of my alternative-certification program designed to plug chronic staffing shortages—the most insidious myth about teaching: anybody smart and dedicated can swoop in and rock it.

. . . The most important baseline that preparation programs must provide incoming teachers is substantial time in a variety of classrooms before those rookies assume the reins. An entire school year of structured observation and apprentice-teaching must be standard.

Brown’s book on his first year of teaching, The Great Expectations School, provides a vivid picture of the challenging students, colleagues and administrators. Brown provides a lot of specifics on his teaching. I’d have loved more on how the school was staffed:  The school seemed to have more administrators and other staffers than classroom teachers. Brown got more feedback on the quality of the classroom bulletin board than he did on how to manage students or teach.

40% of new teachers took alternative path

Forty percent of public school teachers hired since 2005 came through alternative preparation programs, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Information. That’s up from 22 percent of new teachers hired between 2000 and 2004, notes Ed Week‘s Teaching Now.

In addition, the survey found that alternative-route teachers are more in favor of using reforms such as performance pay, elimination of tenure, tying student achievement to teacher evaluations, and market-driven pay to strengthen the teaching profession than are their traditionally prepared counterparts.

However, nearly all teachers, regardless of certification route, support removing incompetent teachers without concern for seniority.

All teachers surveyed were “slightly more satisfied with general working conditions” and “more satisfied with the status of teachers” than those surveyed in earlier years, going back to 1986, reports Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011.

Baby boomers are retiring: Less than a third of teachers are 50 or older and 22 percent are younger than 30.

Eighty-four percent of public school teachers are female, up slightly, and 84 percent are white, down from 91 percent in 1986.

Accountability for education schools

How well are ed schools preparing tomorrow’s teachers? The National Center on Teacher Quality will evaluate the quality of the nation’s 1,400 education schools.

. . . very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs—their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom.

The review will be based on 17 standards “based on the highest caliber research on education and best practices of states and countries with excellent education systems” and vetted by national experts in a variety of fields.

NCTQ field-tested the methodology in analyzing education schools in Texas and Illinois.

U.S. News & World Report will publish the review annually, starting in the fall of 2012.

Alternative routes to teaching will be included only if they’re housed at education schools, writes Teacher Beat. That will exclude Teach for America and district-created teacher-prep programs.

Selling the idea to education deans may be difficult, Teacher Beat notes.

NCTQ’s Texas review was criticized by deans there even before the results came out.

In Texas, deans objected to the fact that the ratings were based on reviews of syllabuses and materials culled from websites rather than in-depth visits to schools. They argued that important topics might not be listed on such outlines. The forthcoming reviews are going to be based on a similar methodology, so anticipate more back-and-forth in this vein. (In fairness to NCTQ, ed. schools grumbled in the past about accreditation visits, too.)

NCTQ’s review will look at how well would-be teachers learn classroom-management skills, understand assessment and demonstrate expertise in their content area, among other things. In addition, programs will be judged on how well student teaching experiences are organized and whether the program collects data on graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Barnett Berry writes about building the 21st-century teaching profession in Ed Week.

Fast track to teaching

Mature professionals are using alternative certification to get into teaching, reports the New York Times.  Twenty percent of new teachers now come through alternative routes.

The story looks at Wylie and Katie Schwieder, 50something parents of four children, who’d worked as a consultant and a corporate trainer and business writing coach.  They signed up with Career Switchers, which “requires applicants to pass an Educational Testing Service exam in the subject matter they want to teach, take an online course and attend a series of meetings to learn classroom teaching skills.”

Armed with a provisional one-year license, the new teacher spends a year of monitored classroom instruction before earning a renewable five-year state teaching license.

Wylie Schwieder is now a math teacher; his wife teaches English.

While the placement rate has fallen from 80 percent to 42 percent, math and science specialists are finding jobs. Many see teaching as secure ” because of its relative security and good benefits.” An awful lot of teachers will be retiring in the next few years.

The story also features the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which offers a $975 online program accepted by nine states.

Among them is Ron Halverson, 52, who worked for two decades at Hewlett-Packard in engineering and finance. After taking early retirement two years ago, he became certified and is in his second year of teaching special education at Borah High School in Boise, Idaho.

Pursuing a traditional teaching degree would have been too long and costly, he said.

In Missouri, Bill DeLoach, 59, had a career in business sales and management. He left an executive position in a regional mutual fund company and completed the American Board program in science. He is now teaching physics at a high school in suburban St. Louis.

One fifth of ABCTE participants are 50 and older.

Certification route doesn’t matter

Alternatively certified elementary teachers are as effective as those who took a traditional path to certification, concludes a Mathematica study for the U.S. Education Department. It didn’t matter whether the teacher prep program required many hours of coursework or just a few: Students’ reading and math scores were the same. However, scores were lower for students whose teachers were taking coursework while teaching.

The study tracked 2,600 students in 63 schools in six states.

Total hours required by alternative certification programs varied by state and ranged from 75 to 795, and by traditional programs, from 240 to 1,380.

. . . Average scores on college entrance exams, selectivity of the college awarding the bachelor’s degree, and level of educational attainment were similar for alternative and traditionally certified teachers.

Alternatively certified teachers were more likely to be black and  less likely to have majored in education.

In U.S. News, Andrew Rotherham wonders why Teach for America is the target of so much vitriol. The young teachers are as good as traditional teachers — and one third stay in the classroom for the long haul, while others bring their classroom experience to other education jobs and endeavors.