Teacher Education

Reforming teacher education or preparation programs is critical to the future success of education. I have heard inducting new teachers into the profession compared to dropping them into the gladiator arena and stepping back to watch until the carnage is over. Those that survive the first several years will probably make it as educators. One-third of teachers quit within the first three years of teaching, and almost half quit within five years. I almost quit after my fourth year, but I came back. I don’t think I would have if I had not had excellent teacher preparation. There was something inside me that was different as a result of my teacher education program, and it saved me from becoming a statistic.

I wonder if teachers who happen by this site could comment and tell me how they were prepared for teaching and whether they would consider themselves well prepared (I started to write “adequately prepared,” but then I thought to myself that “adequate” isn’t enough).

I feel extremely fortunate to have gone through what I have come to believe was an excellent, innovative teacher education program at the University of Georgia called UGA-NETS, the University of Georgia Network of English Teachers and Students (the website has been under construction for a very long time, which is something that makes me nervous). This teacher education program was pioneered by Dr. Sally Hudson-Ross and Dr. Peg Graham.

UGA-NETS is a year-long teacher education program for BSEd and MEd candidates seeking certification in secondary school English. Teacher candidates (TC’s) in the program are paired with mentor teachers (MT’s) in UGA’s surrounding counties’ public schools. I student taught at Winder-Barrow High School. I did not actually participate in pre-planning, because I was not yet enrolled in the program. Perhaps one of the most serendipitous moments of my life, a TC dropped out of the program, already having decided teaching was not for him, and a vacancy opened up just as I moved to Georgia and applied to continue my interrupted education. Sally called me the day before the quarter was set to start to tell me about this vacancy. I didn’t know what to think — start now? But… was I ready? She said it was now or next September, because I couldn’t enroll in the program mid-year. So I took a deep breath and jumped in the pool.

It was an incredible experience. I kept a fantastic dialogue journal with my MT and Sally about experiences and observations I had in the classroom. I observed long before I began teaching in the classroom, which is something that TC’s don’t really get to do enough. We wrote weekly “think pieces” about issues that concerned us and used those think pieces to generate discussion. We conducted research, participated in collaborative inquiry, and developed true camaraderie. I really felt much more prepared for my teaching experiences, and I look back on my preparation with fondness — and not a trace of resentment.

As I entered the program, Sally and Peg were in the final stages of writing a book about UGA-NETS: Teacher/Mentor: A Dialogue for Collaborative Learning (also available from NCTE). My first year of teaching, I participated in a discussion forum: ETEACH-L: Dean’s Forum Discussion for High-School and College Teachers of English (you can still read my contributions under my former name, Dana Cooke — it has been entertaining to review my thoughts as a first-year teacher seven years later).

I think perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my teacher education program was the importance of participating (through conferences, professional development, professional organizations, and reading) in my profession. I am always amazed at the number of teachers who do not participate in their profession. Conferences, to me, are energizing. I love to discuss ideas with my peers. Another critical lesson I learned at UGA-NETS was the value of honest reflection. Constant evaluation of my practices has been critical in my improvement as a teacher. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Sally retired in June 2004, and Peg went on sabbatical. To mark the occasion, UGA-NETS had a gathering of participants — MT’s, TC’s, and professors. It was a celebration of the work Peg and Sally have done in English Education. I will never forget one of the participants fighting tears as he expressed fears that the program might not continue, now that Sally and Peg were not going to be able to run it. “And that can’t happen, because it just has to continue,” he said.

I would love to hear from any past or current participants of the program who want to share their thoughts.

Of course, preparation is key, but another critical element is implementing a mentoring program in schools for new teachers. I cannot say I ever had a really solid mentoring experience in school, despite participating at one school where I taught in a mentoring program that looked good on paper, but didn’t really accomplish its goals.

You can read more about UGA-NETS at these sites:

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3 thoughts on “Teacher Education

  1. *** My first comment was erased when I hit submit so this will be a rough paraphrase of it; and by "rough" I really mean "longer" because the more tired I get, the more long-winded I seem to become sometimes. I f you happen to have received my first comment, feel free to simply delete this one! Thanks! ***

    *ahem*…

    Regarding your comment…

    "I am always amazed at the number of teachers who do not participate in their profession."

    Interestingly I've noticed that the teachers who blog also seem to be the teachers who Care – who are involved in their profession! Which makes their blogs real treasures.

    I'm currently an undergrad in English/History, about to finish my BA next year, and then will be going on to an after-degree BEd somewhere yet to be determined. Since I don't know any teachers personally, other than the blogs of teachers I've come across (through various searches), I have no way to really gain insight beforehand on what its like to actually teach. So finding blogs like yours and like Hipteacher's, for instance (its too bad she's no longer blogging!), has been fantastic. Just being able to read about the things teachers find most difficult *and* what they find most rewarding! Its great and I hope it'll give me many ideas on what to expect and plan for beforehand.

    So… to sum up… thanks for blogging! :)

    Also, I'd be grateful/happy to receive any recommendations or suggestions you may have regarding after-degree Education programs. I'm Canadian but I'm looking at programs as far away as Fort Kent, Maine. The process is… overwhelming. The Education programs in my home city actually are known to have wait lists, which is why I'm looking out of province, even out of country. Anyhow, perhaps you've already posted some recommendations/preferences on programs – I'll just have to keep reading! Or feel free to follow-up-comment or email me – but only if you have the time. No worries if not.

  2. Your comment wasn't deleted. I moderate comments from new commenters. I received all of them. However, it concerns me that there wasn't some text on the screen to tell you that your comment was being moderated. Can you describe what you saw?

  3. Right, I'd read the "Policies" and so understood that it was being moderated and wouldn't appear immediately. But there was no specific notice advising of that. Plus, this was an actual error page that appeared – full of HTML-looking code. I wish I could be more descriptive then that, sorry. As well, it (seemingly – but now you say it actually *was* working each time) was not letting me get past the verification code screen – I'd enter the correct characters and try to submit to no avail.

    Anyways, I just posted a new comment and had no trouble – in fact, no verification code prompt came up at all – so it seems to be fine now.

    And my apologies if you received that one comment tens of times!

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