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Meeting the needs of those entering the teaching profession

By Tim Douglas
April 1, 2015
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A brief parable about preparation: A young and strong lumberjack, eager to succeed in his career, impress his boss and earn his handsome salary, chops down 20 trees during his first day on the job. The boss is pleased and offers words of encouragement.

Motivated by the praise and the pay, the lumberjack attacks his second day with even more passion and energy, but with less impressive results. Day 2 yields only 14 trees. Discouraged but still committed, the lumberjack vows to make Day 3 his best yet, but it is not to be. After his third shift, he takes only 9 trees back to the lumber mill.

Ashamed, the lumberjack apologizes to his manager for his diminishing returns and can only offer as an excuse a lack of strength, even though he felt fit and energized each day. The young wood cutter was truly baffled why he put forth the same effort and focus each day, but received less and less in return. The boss asked his employee a simple question: When was the last time you sharpened your ax?

Everyone wants the best for students. Parents, families, teachers, school administrators, elected officials, community leaders and students themselves all want an education system that graduates all young people ready for college or a career in the 21st century.

Preparing students to succeed in the modern world clearly unites all groups, but how are we preparing teachers, particularly in this time of incredibly dynamic technology?

High-level attention

The question is receiving attention at the highest levels. Last April, the White House issued a fact sheet on taking action to improve teacher preparation. Citing a need to provide a " "world-class education" " for all children, the document states there is " "no more important factor in successful schools than having a great teacher in the classroom," " but it also claims that almost two-thirds of new teachers report that their education programs leave them unprepared for the classroom.

At the forefront of teachers' insecurities about their classroom readiness is technology: how to use it and integrate it effectively for student-centered learning.

Experts say this instruction and seasoning should take place at the university level or in specialty education programs for new teachers, but for many would-be educators, the training is insufficient for many reasons.

" "What makes me weep at night is that it's easy to blame teachers or universities or any one thing," " says Lynne Schrum, Ph.D., the dean of the College of Education and Human Services at West Virginia University and a lifetime ISTE member. " "But it's a layered problem. It's very complex. We are talking about a system, so we can't blame one piece." "

Becoming well equipped

Schrum points to finances as a leading issue, saying that many colleges of education are " "less well equipped than the school down the road." " A teacher will often walk into a career and a classroom that is much better technologically than the teacher's university.

" "Until we get our systems equally well equipped, we will see a gap in preparation in education technology," " she says.

Stevie Chepko, senior vice president, accreditation, for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), agrees that money is a significant roadblock.

" "Institutions have limited resources," " she says. " "I believe [universities and other teacher education programs] can train teachers effectively in all areas, but we need the money to do it, and where does the money come from?" "

Despite these obstacles, Schrum says one really stands out. " "Each institution has something — a code, a bylaw — that calls for integrating technology," " she says. " "But implementation and doing it right — that's the real challenge." "

" "Doing it right" " should include integration of two of ISTE's core resources, says ISTE Chief Innovation Officer Wendy Drexler. " "The ISTE Essential Conditions highlight 14 critical elements across the system that support the effective integration of technology for learning. The ISTE Standards further provide guidance on the skills, knowledge and dispositions required to learn and teach in the digital age. These elements are logical and beneficial additions to teacher training curriculum." "

Uniform doctrine needed

Mia Kim Williams, an associate professor of curriculum studies and education technology at the University of Northern Colorado and a member of the ISTE Board of Directors, says an overarching mission statement may help. Currently, there's no uniform description, guide or doctrine on how to get teachers ready.
" "We're not consistent," " she says. " "There are no national or overarching higher education standards that have been published, so we don't have a big picture of what we want to accomplish. No one shares a common vision." "

Speed is also an obstacle. One component moves at the speed of thought; another travels at a glacial pace.

" "Technology is a moving target," " Williams says. " "It's constantly evolving, changing, and putting a curriculum in place takes time. Education is slow and technology isn't. Integrating something that moves so fast is difficult to do." "
Now let's assume for a second that a university has built a quality program and a new teacher is fully prepared and ready for the world.

" "You can have the greatest teacher, the best person, but it doesn't mean anything if he or she has a principal or superintendent who isn't supportive [of integrating technology and its uses]," " Schrum adds.

Teacher preparation is multifaceted. There aren't enough resources, there is no guiding philosophy, technology moves too fast and then there may be a system that doesn't support what the teacher has been taught.

But clearly, some colleges are succeeding. In fact, some education experts are focusing less on the perceived lack of training that occurs at the university and more on opportunities to practice the craft of teaching.

Opportunities to practice

" "Overall, I don't believe our teachers are as prepared as they could be, but I do believe our teachers are being trained," " says ISTE member Randy Hansen, associate professor and program chair, instructional technology, University of Maryland University College. " "The problem is we are not providing preservice teachers enough opportunities to practice. Teaching is more complex now than it's ever been. They need to master content, pedagogy and integrate and know technology. Candidates then have a short internship, then we put them in classrooms alone before they're ready." "

Is the key to teacher preparation a deeper policy of practice? In a White House fact sheet, President Barack Obama directs the U.S. Department of Education to form a plan to improve teacher readiness across the country, but this is likely years away. Institutions, universities and education systems will remain on their own for the time being, and this is all right with educators like Chepko.

" "In this country, education is about local control, and for lots of good reasons," " she says.

Many colleges of higher education are already working close to campus on more " "practice" " opportunities, professional development programs and partnerships. Hansen, for example, would like to see an education model that mirrors trade schools and vocational programs.

" "At all universities, preservice teachers need to complete an internship, up to a year long and at about 2,500 hours, of activities that demonstrate competency — teaching and technology integration for example," " says Hansen, who is also the president of the Teacher Education Network for ISTE. " "To contrast, to become an auto technician, a student needs to complete about 8,000 hours or up to four years. Student teaching needs to be an apprenticeship, with a mentor, so students can learn to integrate technology correctly." "

West Virginia University is already building partnerships. Morgantown, the home of the West Virginia campus, is 80 miles from Carnegie Mellon University, a private research university in Pittsburgh. West Virginia University students can take full advantage of this proximity.

" "Pittsburgh is an amazing city with many valuable stakeholders," " says Schrum. " "Carnegie provides resources and allows us to check out and use equipment that makes educating our students that much easier we need to get creative to overcome the dearth of resources." "

Harnessing the power of geography

Dallas Dance, Ph.D., superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools and a member of the ISTE Board of Directors, also understands the value and the power of geography, especially for ongoing professional development, teacher practice, and to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

" "Each university has a school system right next door; some have more than one," " he explains. " "We are fortunate to be near Towson University, so why should students at Towson — future teachers — take education courses in the education building when they can come to our district and get real-world experience that includes how to integrate technology? Teachers need to teach." "

Baltimore schools are not only building partnerships, the district is building relationships, which lead to trust.

" "I met with the president of Towson and had an honest conversation," " Dance says. " "More than half of our teachers come from that university. To make sure their students are prepared and we're getting what we need, we work together. We should have a say in helping them develop better teachers, and everybody wins." "

Introducing integration

At the University of Northern Colorado, technology integration goes beyond teacher preparation courses. Leaders at the college are introducing innovative ways to seed and grow technology practices across all disciplines by creating a university-wide integration project that lets all faculty members contribute and develop sustained integration of new pedagogies, academic programs or community connections.

Furthermore, the teacher preparation programs are piloting an iPad project that is transforming college classroom experiences for future teachers. In a writing class for future elementary school teachers, students learn an inquiry process for writing and design multimodal compositions that integrate numerous digital media. They then work with classroom teachers in the field to implement the process with elementary students.

" "Creating diverse learning opportunities in college is an easy way for students to then take that to the K-12 classroom when they teach," " says Williams.
Chepko agrees that the issue transcends the colleges of education.

" "We need to fully integrate technology into all content courses," " she says. " "This is beyond just teacher preparation. If all students, not just teacher candidates, see professors use [technology] effectively, then they will use it effectively." "

To work toward this end, the University of Maryland is pairing a faculty member with a K-12 educator who is using technology effectively so the faculty can see the best practices in action. 

Resources via ISTE

ISTE is also impacting the teacher preparation conversation and provides resources for teachers as they enter the profession and throughout their careers.
The primary resource ISTE provides to drive teacher preparation are the ISTE Standards for Teachers and the ISTE Standards for Students. Countless additional resources can be found via ISTE Professional Learning Networks (PLNs), the EdTekHub and ISTE-published books. And, as a member of CAEP, higher education programs are reviewed by ISTE Standards experts and receive national recognition from ISTE and CAEP.

" "We are currently crowdsourcing educators to submit artifacts aligned with the ISTE Standards and Common Core in order to identify exemplars," " adds Drexler.

An urgent matter

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, " "Teaching has never been more difficult, it has never been more important, and the desperate need for more student success has never been so urgent. Are we adequately preparing future teachers to win this critical battle?" "

The urgency of this question isn't lost on Schrum, who takes the notion of collaboration much further, beyond the university and school system. It's a much bigger conversation.

" "We need people to come together from all areas, the whole community," " she says. " "We need to look broadly at all the issues. We need to get our arms around teaching and learning, period. Integrating technology is just one part. Education technology transcends teacher preparation. We need kids and teachers who know how to think." "

The modern world and the global economy demand more from our students, who in turn demand more from our teachers, and it starts with preparation. If the first step is ineffective, the subsequent steps and eventual outcomes are likely to be less successful.

When it comes to education, it's probably a good idea to remember what Abraham Lincoln said about preparation: " "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax." "