Behind each great student is an even greater teacher. Capturing what makes these special teachers so unique can be difficult to describe. In some cases it may be attributed to a natural talent and passion, in others to years of experience, but rarely are good teachers described as “well-trained.” SCORE has recognized this gap in the system in the 2014-15 State of Education in Tennessee report, which includes as a priority, “Elevate the teaching profession in Tennessee to ensure high-quality candidates pursue a career in education and high-quality candidates receive the support they need to improve student learning.” Excellent education for teachers means excellent education for students, so why not start at the roots with quality teacher preparation programs?
There are currently forty-three programs in Tennessee that offer various teaching endorsements (called Educator Preparation Providers, or EPPs). The range of results from these programs is vast, according to the Report Card on Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs published at the end of 2014. For example, some EPPs saw 36% of their finishers receiving positive TVAAS scores while others saw 40% of their completers receiving negative TVAAS scores. How could these two programs possibly be compared as apples to apples when doling out teacher licenses?
As a future elementary school teacher, I am on the brink of completing an EPP myself. Often when people find out what I am studying, they reply, “Oh that’s so cute!” or “That must be so nice to color all day in your classes!” Yes, my students are absolutely adorable, but my choice of profession was a brave undertaking and a commitment to making a difference for years many years— not quite a career path I would describe as “cute.” If the road to licensure were more selective, with fewer, more challenging programs awarding these licenses, then more people would see teachers as highly trained professionals instead of arts and crafts coordinators.
To improve and streamline results of teacher preparation programs would take not just a re-evaluation of the importance of teachers but also time and money, no doubt. But the benefits for teachers, students, and schools would far outweigh the costs. Teachers would enter into their careers more prepared to tackle rigorous standards, and students would have teachers more skilled at meeting their differentiated needs. Schools would see higher teacher retention and growth on assessment and teacher evaluation scores.
The solutions to improve these programs are endless, whether it’s increasing their selectivity, raising the quality of practical experience, or developing higher standards for EPP curriculum. There are thousands of budding teachers across the state filled with passion to help students reach their fullest potential. Now we must raise the bar in EPPs so that we prepare them to grow into Tennessee’s best and brightest, ready to take on the challenge of the classroom.