Teacher Preparation for City Schools: No Quick Fix!

Located on West Broadway, inside a private candle lit room at Hurley’s Saloon, rain pouring outside, the atmosphere was set for the Education Committee’s first forum of the year. On Tuesday, April 12th, the guest speakers that lined the table included Patrick Vassel from Explore Network Charter School, Jackie Bennett from the United Federation of Teachers, and Edward Wang, the International Baccalaureate Program Coordinator at Thurgood Marshall. The speakers of the evening were flanked by Sophia James, the forum moderator and Chair of the Education Committee.

The panel was asked to answer questions that lurk in the shadows of our educational system: How effective are our teacher preparation programs? To which the majority response indicated that no particular preparation program effectively prepares the teachers for their encounters inside the classroom. Usually their wake up call arrives when the school structure is not at all based on what was theoretically taught. There are students coming from all types of backgrounds, and with behavioral problems, that can take up more of the class time than the actual teaching and learning. Therefore ideas such as program partnerships that develop internships and/or residency extensions that bring the teacher into the classroom to interact with students, shadow other teachers, and include hands-on activities allow teachers to understand the dynamics of a school environment before leading a classroom. Such program collaborations also allows for focus on more than just day to day teaching.

The concern that our students have a lack of content and critical thinking skills creates a life-awakening dilemma – the development and success of future leaders of our country might be jeopardized. Our students are learning the basic skills and are not being challenged to think more critically. To learn and memorize particular information for a test and then only to be forgotten has proven not to be advantageous. To expand on this knowledge, the panel referred to examining school culture, in which schools become their own community of effective competition. Another key point raised was that of data; on this topic, Edward Wang strongly opposed the idea of a test score determining the fatal factor of a teacher’s competence in a classroom. Jackie Bennett (United Federation of Teachers) on the other hand saw the collection of such data as a very close call. “There is something in numbers” she said. There are advantages and disadvantages of student test scores being the prominent factor in determining whether a teacher is “good” or “bad”; that data, which can be analyzed by all, is a step closer to understanding the underlying problems in our classrooms.

At the end of the evening’s discussion, the speakers concluded there were no quick fix solutions, yet, as Jackie Bennett quoted  from John King, Deputy Commissioner of NYS Department of Education, “… we must approach with  humility… it is worth a look…” the initiative taken to analyze the problems we face within our educational system, especially in our teacher preparation programs, will open doors of sentiment on change; a change into a more systematic structure for our future teachers to develop and lead students into responsible citizens serving their country.

By Roselaine Louis, MYD Education Committee