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Dreaming of a Better Preparation Model

Anna Martin

Every teacher, at some point, has the dream. The one where it's the first day of school and you're not ready, or the students won't listen, or you forgot to wear pants. That dream.

I have had some version of this dream nearly every year before the first day of school. Even now, eight years later and National Board certified, I still have it occasionally. Inevitably, I wake up, go to school, and teach without the dreamed-about incidents coming to fruition.

But I used to wonder if the dream was my psyche's punishment for beginning my teaching career as an intern in my own classroom.

As a Teach for America recruit, I co-taught five weeks of summer school before being handed 70 middle school pupils and 6 periods of teaching with 3 preps. That year, various support providers occasionally observed me as I completed my credential during night classes. Looking back, I see how underprepared I was, but, ironically, how much "field experience" I had in comparison to traditionally prepared colleagues. I just wish it wasn't my own students who were the guinea pigs. Now, as I continue to teach and coach new teachers, I am appalled by our willingness to allow the least prepared teachers, like I once was, to teach and bear sole responsibility for our most needy students.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that my route was necessarily worse than the traditional preparation model. To me, "the dream" is not just natural anxiety, but symptomatic of the under-preparation most American teachers receive prior to our "first day." The weeks or months of "internship" that constitute most preservice classroom experience are woefully insufficient.

I now believe that working under a master-mentor teacher for two to three years (from the first to the last day of school) in a similar teaching situation should be a minimum requirement for all teachers. I am a member of the Center for Teaching Quality's New Millennium Initiative, a group of forward-thinking teachers who advocate for transformative policies. In our recently released policy report, we propose a new system of preparation and retention with just such a residency model as its base.

More extended field experience with gradual release of responsibility emphasizing observation and reflection on excellent teaching would allow new teachers to hone their craft before embarking into their own classrooms. It would also likely help retain many teachers that currently leave the profession early on. Further, experienced teachers could spread their expertise beyond their own classrooms and help ensure that all children have a highly trained professional responsible for their learning and success every day.

And, maybe, if this kind of model was instituted, I could finally sleep through the night before the first day of school.

Anna L. Martin, who received her National Board Certification, is the resource teacher at Lee Mathson Middle School in San Jose, Calif.

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