Research That Matters is an annual publication highlighting faculty research at the University of Washington College of Education. This edition, An Education in Education: Putting Teacher Preparation Programs to the Real-World Test, focuses on teacher education. Through rigorous research, the College gathered real-world evidence to shape our Teacher Education Program. We worked to ensure that the teachers we prepare would positively impact the academic achievement of all the students we serve.
The field of teacher education has always sparked impassioned debate, from criticism of the first teacher preparation schools in the 1800s to cries over the “miseducation” of U.S. teachers arising in the 1960s. At no time has the scrutiny of formal teacher preparation been as intense, however, as it is today.
A Matter of Fact
This was not research that could be discounted. It was concrete, well-contextualized. It gave a rich, real-world description of what was going on in classrooms. And it was generated in-house. “It shook up the faculty,” says Peck. “It revealed the gap between what we talk about up here and what is going down out there.”
Knit One, Purl Two
Before long, more faculty had joined in regular evening sessions, as well as cooperating teachers from partner schools, principals and central office administrators. Connections were made, new relationships formed. And the busy hands — happy hands — freed minds for wide-ranging discussions about program renewal in the UW’s teacher education program.
Times had changed. Classrooms had changed. Even local upper-middle-class suburban districts had changed, with influxes of ethnically diverse students who were learning English. “When test scores in these districts dropped, the first inclination was to blame the students,” says Glenn. “You simply cannot use that argument any more. You cannot lay the blame on the students because we know it’s not right.”
Campus to Classroom
He entered the UW graduate program mainly to pick up a degree and master some tricks to help students memorize formulas and ace big tests. The intern, who’d had previous experience teaching, had no time for what he saw as the theoretical, abstract nature of most teacher preparation instruction. “I don’t live in that world,” he told researchers in his first interview. He saw himself as a “real world” guy. “That world” and the “real world” would collide and coalesce over the course of the study.
For ten weeks, inside a high-needs urban school, the UW teacher interns are paired with high-school students utterly unlike them...“The idea is to give the interns the sense that classrooms are not filled with ‘mini-thems’ — younger versions of themselves — and to help them understand why some students struggle,” says research assistant and math methods instructor Sunshine Campbell.
Making Connections Outside the Classroom
The community-based program has been an eye-opener for the UW teachers-in-training who, as part of their campus coursework, may be assigned to “shadow” a child or create “community maps” that include not only neighborhoods surrounding community centers but also key players in those neighborhoods. The students report that exposure to new communities and cultures changes their views of children — and of themselves.
Together, the new teachers and their UW mentors probe and poke, ponder and problem-solve. Why did students ignore an important scientific concept in explaining a particular experiment? How could teachers make students dive deeper for “big ideas” in an experiment? Why didn’t the students use data effectively to back up their claims? Why did a teacher’s lesson help only high achievers in the classroom and leave other students behind?
The Data Dilemma
What Is the measure of a good teacher? With pressing demands to improve teacher quality, it’s a fair question to ask. Obvious answers revolve around credentials, advanced degrees, professional training, years on the job, and classroom scores on high-stakes achievement tests. But the question — posed against a challenging educational landscape — is not so simple nor so easily quantified, as the work of two tenacious University of Washington researchers illustrates.
"There is a level of creativeness and quality that is present in this work that is rare,” says director of Teacher Education Ken Zeichner. “Many top research universities have lots of creative and talented faculty, but it is unusual that you find a critical mass of them devoting their talents and energies to teacher education.”
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