Learning to teach from a teacher

Urban Teachers trainee Meghan Sanchez, 23, is spending a year in a Washington, D.C. pre-K classroom before getting her own class. Photo: Jackie Mader, Hechinger Report

New teachers who’ve spent a full year in a mentor’s classroom may not be more effective in their first year, writes Hechinger’s Jackie Mader. However, they appear to improve faster than conventionally trained teachers and outperform them by their fourth and fifth year, according to a 2011 study of the Boston Teacher Residency Program.

In addition, residency grads are more likely to be teaching after three to five years, reports the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

NCTR residents also are more likely to teach English Learners or in areas of chronic shortage, such as  science, technology, engineering or math.

A first-year “resident” of Urban Teachers, Meghan Sanchez shares a pre-K classroom in Washington D.C. with Alina Kaye, an experienced teacher, while taking evening courses to earn a master’s degree. She’ll be supported for four years as she moves into teaching.

“Residency programs like Urban Teachers are something of a hybrid of traditional and alternative routes, and some experts hope they’ll be the wave of the future,” writes Mader.

By contrast, Teaching Fellow Amit Reddy is learning to teach middle-school science by teaching, also in D.C. It’s exhausting.

Train to be great: Can teachers do it?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice isn’t enough, says Anders Ericsson, known for the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. In his new book, Peak, Ericsson explains how to practice to be awesome, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in a rave review.

The key to achieving awesomeness is “deliberate” practice, writes Willingham, summarizing the book. Three points stand out for me:

  • It’s for skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques exist.
  • You typically work on one small aspect of the skill when you practice.
  • It requires meaningful feedback, and meaningful response to the feedback.

For example, to create better doctors, “the medical field needs to identify experts in each field, figure out what underlies their superior performance, and develop the logical steps to build those mental representations in novices.”

What about teachers? Peering Around the Corner, a Bellwether Education Partners research paper, argues that teacher trainers
don’t know how to make great teachers — or even competent ones.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers' strategies for getting student's attention.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers’ strategies for getting student’s attention.

Every year, nearly 27,000 teacher preparation programs turn out 200,000 would-be teachers, Bellwether notes. Yet there’s no evidence that preparation requirements — licensure tests, grade or SAT minimums, student teaching hours and performance assessments — guarantee effective teachers.

It’s also not clear how to help experienced teachers develop their skills, the report found. “At every stage of a teacher’s career we simply don’t know how to help her improve.”

Doug Lemov focuses on improving teaching practice in Teach Like a Champion. Is this the way to greatness?

Stop hazing new teachers

It’s time to stop hazing new teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. Without training in classroom management, new teachers are set up to flounder and fail.

In The Battle for Room 314, Ed Boland refutes the “hero teacher” narrative, writes Pondiscio. Boland didn’t save his tough, inner-city students. He struggled for a year at a New York City high school, then quit.

Pondiscio recalls being a new fifth-grade teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. He was saved by a mid-year transfer to take over an experienced teacher’s class and by reading Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55, which listed “classroom rules . . . to teach his students to be attentive, engaged and respectful.”

Taking over a new class gave me a fresh start in my first year and an opportunity to undo my rookie mistakes; Clark’s 55 rules helped me develop a hard-nosed action plan to address my prodigious classroom management struggles. It’s worth noting that Clark’s book was a direct repudiation of the training I’d received, which encouraged us to allow students to create their own classroom rules so they would feel “ownership” of their “classroom community.” The only thing that got owned was me.

Boland followed the traditional teacher prep route with two years of graduate school and six months of student teaching. “I had taken courses in lesson planning, evaluation, psychology, and research,” he writes. “Next to nothing was said about what a first-year teacher most needs to know: how to control a classroom.”

“We treat the first-year teaching like it is some sorority or fraternity hazing,” notes Kate Walsh, the head of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Educators expect a new teacher to be sick to her stomach every day at the thought of how she is going to survive the day just because that’s what they once did. It’s appalling!”

Often, schools “are filled good people trying their best and failing,” writes Pondiscio. Boland was “failed by those who trained him, hired him and left him to crash and burn.”

Teachers want tech, but need training

“It seems a waste,” writes Hechinger’s Meghan Murphy. Despite “millions of educational apps, millions of lesson plans available online, millions of laptops in the hands of students,” few teachers “find ways to infuse technology into their lessons.”

Teachers say they need more and better training, she writes. In a 2015 survey, 90 percent of teachers said technology was important for classroom success; almost two-thirds wanted to integrate it into their lessons, but said they needed more training.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High School science teacher and Montana Teacher of the Year, showed other teachers how to create YouTube tutorials to "flip" the classroom.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High science teacher, showed how to create YouTube tutorials to “flip” the classroom.

A nonprofit and several teacher-founded companies are developing interactive training methods to help teachers use digital tools effectively.

Jessica Anderson has “blended” her ninth-grade earth science class in Deer Lodge, Montana. She’s is the state’s Teacher of the Year for 2016.

On a day in December, a girl worked on her laptop to illustrate the cycle of water through the atmosphere, while a boy used Google 3-D glasses to take “a virtual field trip, researching various ways that communities across the globe use minerals.” Each student was on a self-directed path, writes Murphy.

BetterLesson, founded by former teachers from Atlanta and Boston,  provides “master teachers” who help someone like Anderson “create a strategic plan for doing blended learning” and a way to measure effectiveness, writes Murphy. “The team then meets along the way for coaching, feedback and accountability.”

When Jessica Lura taught a lesson on mood in writing, she used a PBS Kids video as a hook for her eighth-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, California, writes Murphy.

By the end of the lesson, they’ll have written sentences in various moods, written and recorded a monologue, and made that monologue come to life with an animation app.

Lura’s teaching is captured in the “Lesson Flow in Action” video on Graphite, which is Common Sense Media’s portal for teacher resources. Common Sense featured Lura because she’s one of their certified educators who integrates technology comfortably into her classroom. Her lesson plans are hosted with about 2,200 other lessons on the site, which also has almost 12,000 app reviews accessible to its more than 310,000 teacher members.

Another sites, Teachers Pay Teachers, provides free and paid resources. Teachers have earned $175 million for their lessons.

Learning to teach from a teacher


Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Ed schools try to reform themselves

It’s time to remake teacher education, declares Deans for Impact, two dozen deans of education schools. The group released The Science of Learning, a report by Dan Willingham and Paul Bruno on how to apply cognitive science research to classroom practice.

The deans have “committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning,” writes Robert Pondisco.

Too often, teacher ed programs “fetishize theory, teachers’ dispositions toward learners, or soft pedagogical skills at the expense of subject matter depth,” he writes.

Schools of education have largely received a pass in our accountability-mad era. Attempts at even modest reform typically bring howls of protest. That reality prompted Robert Pianta, the head of UVA’s education school and one of the Deans for Impact, to write recently that he was “embarrassed that professionals responsible for the preparation of teachers seem to oppose so adamantly efforts to evaluate the competence of the workforce they produce.”

Of course, ed schools have pledged to reform before.

NCTQ rates ‘best value’ ed schools

Western Governors University, which is all online, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College are the nation’s top three “best value” colleges of education, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality

The ratings consider quality, affordability, how much teachers can earn in the state and “how well the school prepares future teachers for the realities of the classroom.”

A total of 416 programs in 35 states received a grade of A or B. The list is here.

NCTQ also launched Path to Teach, a free search tool with information about the quality of more than 1,100 schools of education.

The education of Jose Garcia

Five years after he earned his diploma, Jose Garcia returned to Rauner College Prep as a teacher. Noble Street Network of Charter Schools, which runs 16 schools in Chicago, is hiring and training its graduates, reports Becky Vevea, WBEZ education reporter, in The Education of Jose Garcia.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014. Photo: Becky Vevea, WBEZ

Garcia tutored Spanish-speaking second graders when he attended Denison, but he didn’t major in education and doesn’t have teaching license. “He got just two weeks of training over the summer and he doesn’t have a teaching license,” writes Vevea.

But he’ll spend a year assisting experienced teachers before getting his own classroom.

Like Noble’s other new teachers, Garcia is enrolled in the Relay Graduate School of Education. In late-afternoon classes, master educators teach strategies such as the “self-interrupt.”

There’s no campus, no lectures, no discussions of John Dewey or Rudolph Steiner. Mostly, it’s a lot of practice on how to manage a classroom.

He will earn a master’s degree – -but not a teaching license. “To be licensed through an alternative route, like Relay, Jose must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA,” writes Vevea. With very low grades in his first year at Denison, he finished with a 2.8.

Mid-way through the year, already “exhausted and overwhelmed” by his co-teaching responsibilities, Garcia takes over two sophomore English classes, replacing a teacher on medical leave.

In a survey at year’s end, he’s surprised by how many students wrote, “Mr. Garcia didn’t give up on me.”

This year, Garcia is a counseling seniors on college options and teaching two sections of a new class called Identity and Justice Studies.

Online program aims to train 10,000 teachers

TEACH-NOW, an online training and credentialing program, plans to turn out 10,000 new teachers in the next five years, reports Jackie Mader in Washington Monthly’s College Guide.

Four years ago, Emily Feistritzer, an education researcher and former president of the National Center for Education Information, began the nine-month training course to help new teachers learn to use technology in the classroom. There are now 700 graduates.

Emily Fxxxxxxx

Emily Feistritzer

“The majority of [schools of education] are pretty stale and boring and don’t really prepare teachers to work in 21st century schools,” said Philip Schmidt, former dean of Western Governors University’s teacher preparation program, who’ll help with the expansion.

In TEACH-NOW’s model,  “students take online classes with 15 or fewer students and work through a sequence of individual online modules, instead of taking several different classes at the same time,” writes Mader. “Classroom observations, projects and school-based experiences, like tutoring, are integrated throughout the curriculum, and all aspiring teachers must complete a 12-week module of student teaching at the end of the certification program.”

Tom Vander Ark has more on online teacher prep and the TEACH-NOW model.

Teachers aren’t dumb, but training is

TeacherPrepProgram.jpg
National Council on Teacher Quality, 2006

“Dumb teacher training” — not dumb teachers — is the problem with U.S. education, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a New York Times op-ed. “Teachers are smart enough,” but they’re not trained to know their subject well and “know how to help children learn it,” he writes.

In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”

Another study found many professors of reading instruction had trouble identifying phonemes and morphemes.

An international study of new middle school teachers showed that Americans scored worse on a math test than teachers in countries where kids excelled, like Singapore and Poland. William Schmidt of Michigan State University identified the common-sense explanation: American teachers take fewer math classes. Instead, they take more courses in general pedagogy — coursework, that is, on theories of instruction, theories of child development and the like.

Willingham calls for assessing teacher training by testing whether graduates have learned what they need — rather than by evaluating their students’ test scores.

Research shows what teachers need to know, he writes. “Students learn to read better from teachers who understand the structure of language and learn math better from teachers who know specific techniques for drawing analogies to explain mathematical ideas.”

Willingham inspired a number of comments from people who want teachers to inspire, morphemes be damned. Inspiring and ignorant doesn’t inspire me.