To Fix Teacher Shortages, We Need to Change How We Think About Teacher Preparation

Today’s New York Times piece on teacher shortages in California and nationally sounds many of the same themes as our recent Bellwether report on teacher preparation in California.

Unfortunately, it also reflects the same problematic frame for thinking about teacher preparation that the report argues contributes to poor preparation and teacher shortages. 

So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can — whether out of state or out of country — and wooing candidates earlier and quicker. Some are even asking prospective teachers to train on the job, hiring novices still studying for their teaching credentials, with little, if any, classroom experience.

This quotation from the article appears to suggest it’s a sign of a problem if schools are recruiting candidates earlier or if teachers are being trained on the job. (It also appears to confuse the distinction between emergency credentialed teachers, who have no preparation prior to teaching, and candidates in alternative preparation programs, who receiving both pre-service training and receive on-the-job support–and who research shows are no less effective than peers prepared through traditional programs.)

We would argue the opposite: To fix teacher shortages and improve the quality of preparation, we need schools and districts to play a more active role in recruiting and preparing prospective teachers, and more opportunities for prospective and novice teachers to get high-quality on-the-job training that roots preparation in the realities of practice and supports newbies in their challenging first years on the job. This can take the form of more robust university-district partnerships and higher quality clinical experiences in traditional preparation programs, residency models, or alternative preparation programs that include both high-quality pre-service learning and on-the-job support.

But as long as we think about preparation as the sole responsibility of candidates and higher education institutions–in which districts or schools have little role to play–we’re ill-positioned either to address teacher shortages or to improve the quality of preparation.