Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Raising the Bar

Derryn Moten's picture

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Derryn Moten. Derryn is a Professor of Humanities and Co-President of the Faculty-Staff Alliance at Alabama State University. He serves on the AFT* Teacher Preparation Task Force, which recently released a report entitled “Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession.” Here, he shares his thoughts on why this report is so important.

What will it take to ensure that all new teachers are prepared to teach a diverse student body in the rapidly-changing 21st Century?  I teach at a historically black university with the oldest state-supported college of education in the nation, so I’m very interested in having an open dialogue about how to answer this question. Those of us who collaborated on the AFT’s recent report, Raising the Bar, are all striving to answer that question, too.

Our work on this report was guided by two assumptions. First, if teacher preparation matters, then assessing student teacher performance throughout their matriculation in teacher training programs matters. Likewise, to paraphrase AFT President Weingarten, teacher preparation standards should be done by us rather than done to us. Our schools of education have graduated many wonderful teachers, whose service to the nation’s students is of immeasurable value. But in order to help the next generation of teachers reach their fullest potential in their work with students, we must make sure our teacher preparation programs are of consistently high quality, and we as educators must reclaim ownership of entry standards into our profession.

The goal is not simply to admit “the best,” nebulous as that standard is, but to graduate teacher candidates only when they demonstrate that have the core subject knowledge and requisite skills to successfully enter the classroom. That is the purpose of the bar-like exam process. It is not a high-stakes entrance or exit test, but rather the process by which teacher candidates will demonstrate their practical knowledge of teaching and show their knowledge of their content area. We want to make sure that all new teachers have the practical experience and in-depth knowledge of teaching that will enable them to cultivate a love of learning in their students, no matter their background, strengths or needs as learners.

But this report is about much more than the proposed examination process. In particular, the clinical experience is pivotal, as this is where teachers-in-training develop the ability to link theory and practice in order to create a good learning environment for students. This is why we all agreed that teacher preparation programs should be rigorous from beginning to end, and that measurements of pre-service teachers’ performance should be multiple, universal, unwavering and unbiased. The goal is to develop confident novice teachers who are secure enough in their practice to continue growing, rather than struggling or leaving the profession because they feel they weren’t well prepared. We owe it to our up-and-coming colleagues, and the students they will teach, to find ways to make that vision a reality for all new teachers.

*AFT is a member of the Learning First Alliance