by Elizabeth Long│Friday, May 4th, 2018
A version of this post originally appeared at Teach Reach NM and is republished here with permission.
Recently, there's been a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list. Our teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers who deliver student achievement.
Take my story, for example. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since first grade. Yet, after my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on this dream I had as a little girl. It was devastating. I had not been adequately prepared.
Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and found school resources to push myself to my full potential. In fact, most recently I earned an “Exemplary” rating as a middle school teacher in Gallup, a school that has gone from a D to a B over the past three years. Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had, nor the resolve to keep pushing internally. And that is how New Mexico continues to lose potentially life-changing teachers.
The reality is this: when teacher preparation programs improve across New Mexico then the quality of teaching, and thus the quality of education across the state, will improve as well.
There is a positive trickle down effect when teachers enter the classroom “Day One Ready”.
So, what does “Day One Ready” mean exactly?
“Day One Ready” means that teachers are not surprised by, but rather prepared for, what they walk into on that first day in their classroom. It is not about perfection, but rather about teachers who are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of teaching our students.
“Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program align with their upcoming classroom experience. As teachers, we must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning. And this mindset is developed largely via our training.
The summer after my first (tough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and read his words as scripture. One may ask, didn’t I do this in my training program?
The answer is “sort of” - I read many famous teaching texts, but often wasn’t exposed to the application side of these theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in, it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. I had some great courses along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.
I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity we find across The Land of Enchantment. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view of English Learners (ELs) and culturally relevant teaching with limited connection to New Mexico’s specific students and history.
Our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher preparation programs. Further, we must celebrate student diversity while never lowering the bar for any student, regardless of background.
This wasn’t always the message I received.
The purpose of sharing my thoughts and experiences is not to demonize any specific program. Rather, as I have mentored over the years, I have seen many new, promising teachers come and go. In my experience, teacher preparation program experiences correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession and thrive, endure or exit.
It’s common sense to me that our teacher preparation programs should be held accountable, increase the quality and duration of student teaching experiences, and align programs more closely with state and district expectations.
We know that, more than anything else at the school site, teacher quality is causal to student success. Certainly teacher preparation is the very foundation of that concept.
I am thankful I remained teaching. Even with all the challenges, teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there. And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it, which is everything to me.
As I look back, I wish I would have been better trained to be more successful on day one, rather than questioning what has become my life’s passion. Thankfully, I stuck around, but so many new teachers don’t. There’s no excuse for that.
Elizabeth Long - Middle School Teacher in Gallup, NM
Elizabeth Long is finishing up her 7th year of teaching. She is originally from Ohio, and her family moved to the Navajo Reservation when she was sixteen. Not only is she a passionate teacher, she also enjoys photography, nature, traveling, and spending time with her family and dogs.