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Teaching The Teachers



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Education profs know they are readying their students to face a pressure cooker, but believe that good solid instruction and practice will prevail. "Our candidates have a multitude of standardized testing they have to do," says Berlinghoff, "and we don't 'teach to' those tests. We teach evidence-based practices, and if you use those your students will learn whatever they need to learn. We do talk about Common Core and Engage-NY; in my methods classes I use them for lesson planning. We want candidates to be able to get jobs. But we don't focus on or teach to the modules. We focus on evidence-based, high-quality pedagogy; we do a lot of analysis of what practices work and why."

"Absolutely, Common Core has an impact," says Rosenberg. "I view it as teaching kids to make use of multiple content areas and engage in problem solving. It's an approach to learning in which you approach a topic from different dimensions. What has made the argument so explosive is that the state has tied it to standardized testing, testing things kids have not had the chance to experience. But the teaching is actually very rich; it's hard to argue with a focus on problem solving and critical thinking. We've been looking at our syllabi and altered them to include explication of how to teach in this method; we're doing a lot in our educational methods classes, and we're rolling out specific illustrations. Very few professors or teachers would admit to teaching in a rote way, but even if they are, if you show them interdisciplinary approaches that deepen the content, they get excited again."

Rosenberg says that at New Paltz they are hard at work on helping teachers and prospects find ways to access the positive aspects of the Common Core mandate. "Through SUNY and the state education department, we've gotten grant funds to create opportunities for teachers to collaborate around this, to look at a content area and develop Common Core activities that work at different levels," Rosenberg says. "Two groups have done this already. We strive to offer examples and models of things that others may then want to try, rather than a top-down approach."

The Power of Praxis

Internships and student teaching are a key part of the transformation from ordinary mortal to teacher, and all three professors say their schools have strong programming in that area. Mount Saint Mary has the benefit of its own elementary school, Bishop Dunn, where beginners can try their wings under the gaze of familiar professors. "We do a lot of course embedded fieldwork; we go into the field with them and supervise them," says Berlingoff. "It helps us to get a sense that they really can work with kids."

"We focus a lot on offering clinically rich opportunities to practice," says Rosenberg. "Students get a number of sequential fieldwork experiences, increasing in intensity."

"We always try to have content professors and the candidate's mentor teacher work together to help students become teachers," says Furr. "Our retention data is pretty good. Our guys stay in teaching, partly because of the students who come to us, but also because of the type of training they get and the follow-through. Our grads are part of a supportive alumni group."

School systems facing attrition are themselves rethinking their methods of helping beginners become seasoned pros, a process called induction. Front-loading support systems into the early years may be the answer. "It's hard to be a teacher, and we tell them the truth about that," says Berlinghoff. "Now if we could fix the system as a whole, if every school had an embedded teacher coach, that would be my perfect world."

Even in that perfect world, teaching would remain a challenging calling. But then, what isn't? "Becoming a teacher takes longer than the single year or two you spend in a graduate education program," says Furr. "A teacher has to have to have the ability to continue self-educating out in the workplace."

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