The Transylvania Times -

By Meredith Licht
Everyday Education 

The Teacher's Apprentice: A New Training Model


Imagine you need routine surgery. You are given a choice between two doctors. The first is new and has never performed the surgery. The second doctor has 10 years of experience with this particular surgery.

In such a situation, the choice would be obvious. You would choose the experienced doctor to be responsible for your well-being.

What if a third choice existed? What if the inexperienced doctor worked under and with the veteran to learn how to perform and eventually take over the procedure?

This clinical based approach is how medical students begin to develop their practice. William Osler, one of the founders of John Hopkins Hospital, recognized the importance of clinical training and was the first medical professor to move his students from the lecture hall to the bedside.

“To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all,” Osler said.

Studying to be a teacher should be approached with the same mindset.

Teaching may not be brain surgery, but it definitely has to do with brain development, and a teacher’s training does make a difference in student outcomes and well-being.

Of course, everyone must start somewhere. In order to help new teachers have an effective start, we need a better model to train them.

The most effective teacher training programs partner student teachers with mentor teachers in a long-term co-teaching situation. Such programs were the focus of a blue ribbon panel report published by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education on improving teacher preparation programs.

“Teaching, like medicine, is a profession of practice, and prospective teachers must be prepared to become expert practitioners who know how to use the knowledge of their profession to advance student learning and how to build their professional knowledge through practice,” NCATE said in the report. “In order to achieve this we must place practice at the center of teaching preparation.”

Practice makes progress. Putting prospective teachers into classrooms to learn and practice their craft is just as important as their understanding of the theory of teaching.

My own teaching experience highlights the importance of practice before theory. After I had been in the classroom for a few years, my husband began taking teacher preparation classes. I got more out of his education courses than I did out of mine. My teacher training put theory before practice. Later, when my husband was learning about those same theories, they made more sense to me because I had experiences to which I could apply them.

If we want to teach teachers how to teach, then we must get them into classrooms with master teachers as soon as possible so they can learn by doing.

Instead, prospective teachers take education courses for several semesters. The semester before they graduate, they complete a practicum, usually called student teaching, gradually phasing in and out of teaching someone else’s classes, with usually only six to nine weeks of teaching on their own.

These abrupt and artificial timelines do not allow for teacher candidates to become fully comfortable, confident or competent in their practice. We need to move to an apprentice-based teaching preparation model.

The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program offered a middle ground between the apprenticeship and traditional model by exposing prospective teachers to and engaging them in classroom environments early and often. The program provided a four-year scholarship loan for students at participating state universities and was repaid by four years of service in a North Carolina classroom or in cash like any other student loan.

The program was, by many measures, successful.

The Education Policy Initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill published a report in 2012 and found the Teaching Fellows program “enhanced the human capital of the teacher workforce and improved student achievement in North Carolina.” The study also determined Teaching Fellows significantly increased high school students’ end-of-course test scores and math test scores for students in third through eighth grades.

Furthermore, of approximately 8,500 Teaching Fellow graduates since the program began in 1987, more than 4,600 were still teaching in North Carolina during the 2014-15 school year. Twenty-three years after the program began, more than half of the graduates, who were only required to teach for four years, are still working in public education.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program in favor of funding the less effective and less expensive weeks-long Teach for America program (TFA). In fact, TFA teachers had the lowest retention rate of any group who entered the profession, according to a report from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Institute for Public Policy. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), 30 percent of TFA teachers left the classroom in the 2014-15 school year, the highest turnover rate of any category of teacher.

The turnover rates are high with other groups as well. In fact, NCDPI reports that nearly 21 percent of beginning teachers, those in their first three years of experience, left the classroom last year.

These teachers need more support if they and their students are going to be successful.

More than textbooks, more than technology, teachers are the most important thing in determining student success. If we want students to be successful, we have to create a better training program for prospective teachers.

If revamping the way we train prospective teachers will mean better outcomes for our students, the decision to do so is a no brainer.

(Meredith Licht is in her 15th year of teaching in Transylvania County Schools and is proud to be a Teaching Fellow graduate, one of more than 20 in the county.)


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