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How Should We Reform Teacher Education?

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As contemporary K-12 students change their learning styles and expectations for their educations, teachers need to change too. Also, edtech has dramatically expanded what teachers can accomplish, so they need to understand how to integrate these new technologies into their teaching.

In response, the education that teachers receive needs to be modified to meet the demands of modern K - 12 classrooms. There are policy and practice changes taking place all over the world - many driven by teachers - that address this issue. How should we reform teacher education? I have several thoughts on the matter.

Virtual reality classrooms should be used in teacher education programs. In my career, I have been a professor of education at 3 different universities. Two were situated in urban environments, and the other in a rural setting. The one problem that all of them shared in common was finding field experience and student teaching placements for their preservice teachers. This problem existed for both of the urban institutions mainly because there were several other universities in the area, which created intense competition for student placements. School districts did their best to accommodate us all, but there are a finite amount of placements that each school can sustain. Unless you were a prestigious university that was connected politically, you found yourself always searching for last minute placements.

In rural areas, the problem is a bit different. The main issue is finding school districts that are within a suitable driving distance for preservice teachers, many of whom do not have transportation. Even if they do, driving 30 miles to your placement is a bit of a burden, especially for students who have busy schedules. Add to that the reality that the closest schools may not be able to accommodate all of the teacher education students that you need to place.

Fortunately, virtual reality is creating new ways for universities to provide "field experiences" for their teacher education majors. They are using virtual reality to simulate real classrooms. Using this technology, we can emulate the challenges and routines of classroom life and tailor the difficulty level to meet the specific needs of each preservice teacher. You may question the validity of placing teacher education majors in a virtual classroom inhabited by computer-generated students, but this type of technology is currently being used on hundreds of campuses across the U.S.

This technology cannot take the place of traditional face to face field experiences and student teaching, but it can be used to supplement them, by giving students an opportunity practice their teaching skills in a safe space. It can be used to help preservice teachers who get nervous in front of an audience get used to teaching in front of PreK-12 students. I was one of these nervous teacher education majors, and I would have loved to practice my teaching skills in virtual reality. This technology is the real deal, as users soon learn. They have to use their classroom and behavior management skills when avatars misbehave and respond to their virtual students challenging questions. Even though they are practicing these skills in virtual reality, they still translate to an actual classroom. I think that this new technology shows a lot of promise. It could be be a way to end teacher shortages, by ensuring that teachers that make it to classroom have been throuroughly trained.

We should flip methods courses: I believe that teacher education programs should flip methods courses, such as middle school math, secondary social studies, elementary reading, and also advanced education theories and concepts. These courses deal with the subject matter on a very detailed and specialized level, introducing material that will be taught day to day. Also, these courses provide teacher education candidates with specific pedagogical methods and strategies that they can use to instruct their future pupils. For example, at this point, a special education major would begin taking courses explicitly constructed to train them to work with students with special needs.

These courses may also be supplemented with field experiences, depending on the college or university offering the program. Preservice teachers usually spend their time in a college classroom hearing lectures about pedagogy and subject area content from their professors. They are also required to do field experiences in a PreK-12 classroom, either observing a class, tutoring or delivering instruction.

What if we completely changed this paradigm by using the flipped model? Teacher education majors would watch videos of pedagogical, classroom management or assessment methods or perform some other assignment outside of the college classroom. Instead of showing up to a physical college class, they would spend their class time in PreK-12 classrooms, where they would practice the teaching skills that they have been learning. This would be done under the supervision of a cooperating teacher, and a professor that floats around the school working with their pre-service teachers. This way, pre-service teachers spend their class time working with PreK-12 students, practicing the skills that they will need to make it in the profession. To make this come to fruition, we need teacher accreditation agencies like CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation) to make this configuration a requirement for methods courses.

Credible online graduate degree programs should be the norm: Since the online learning revolution started, there have been many attempts to create credible online graduate degrees for teachers. Some have been very good, but some have been downright awful. This is a shame, since there are scores of in-service teachers that would like to obtain a graduate degree in education, but cannot attend brick and mortar classes.

Unfortunately, many of the programs that these teachers end up joining are of low quality and offer uncertain educational outcomes. Look for this to change in the future, as more and more universities are starting to get online education right. In the future, I predict the majority of in-service teachers will choose a fully online graduate program in education, or a blended/hybrid one over totally face to face options. To make this come to fruition, we need teacher accreditation agencies like CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation) and regional accreditation agencies like SACS (Southern Association of Schools and Colleges) to hold online degree providers to a more rigorous standard.

One example of a university getting it right does not come from a fancy Ivy League or large state school. The institution that I am speaking of is the Lesley University, a small private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I became aware of their online graduate programs in education while talking to a friend who had just received a master's of education from there. I couldn't make the ceremony, so I decided to give her a congratulatory phone call. During this phone call, I asked her to tell me about the experiences that she had during this online graduate teacher education program.

She reported that the tuition was affordable, the professors were world class and that her advisor was very accessible. On top of that, she completed the program in 12 months with no issues. After hearing so many educators talk about their horrible experiences with online degree programs, her comments were a breath of fresh air. Although I am sure that there are scores of universities that are doing the exact same thing, it was Lesley University's commitment to excellence and quality control that floored me. I predict that in the future, this will be the norm for online graduate programs for educators.

Conclusion

Public education in America needs teachers that are better trained to meet the needs of specific student populations, those that understand the necessary role of edtech, and those that are willing to speak up to facilitate change. Without these teachers, effective reform to meet global demand is not possible.

How have the roles of teachers changed over the years in your opinion? What is the single most significant obstacle that teachers face that stands in the way of maximum K-12 student achievement? How can we reform teacher education?

 

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