By Phyllis Erdman
In two recent speeches, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted the need for improved teacher education. After the first speech, he no doubt heard from many of my colleagues in academia, because the second one included examples of programs that are doing an excellent job. He also listed the hallmarks of good teacher preparation, and I’m pleased to report that our undergraduate and master’s in teaching programs have all of those hallmarks, including being research-based and requiring subject mastery.
That’s not just the bragging of a proud WSU administrator. Our programs received high marks this year from both state and national accreditation teams. We’re especially pleased about the “exemplary” rating that state evaluators gave us for the quality of the student field experiences and clinical practices. Our students work beside mentor teachers in public schools throughout their programs, culminating in 16 weeks of student teaching, and all work with diverse and high-needs youngsters.
The following passage from the state report speaks to the success of our students’ experience:
“In interviews, cooperating teachers and principals lauded the WSU teacher preparation programs and candidates. A principal stated he’d want to hire WSU graduates because they are ‘experience-rich.’ Cooperating teachers expressed that the progression of the coursework and experiences (i.e., block practicum) facilitated a ‘maturity’ in the candidates; ‘they learn it, then see it.’ They were impressed with the candidates’ classroom management, ‘noticing the little things,’ ‘awareness and emphasis on actual learning’ and their ‘interest in teaching.’”
In his second speech, given at Columbia University, Secretary Duncan applauded a 14-state pilot program in which teachers and university faculty will evaluate student teachers’ classroom performance using a nationally validated performance instrument. Washington is one of those states, and our Department of Teaching & Learning is leading that statewide effort.
It is telling that our peers often invite us to participate in national efforts to improve teaching and educational leadership programs. The most important indicator of our success, of course, is how well our graduates do their jobs. Among those alumni are Danyell Laughlin (B.A., ’92), who teaches English at Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale, and Michelle Kelly (M.Ed. ’97), who teaches a third and fourth grade class in the highly capable program at Kent Elementary. Both women were named regional teachers of the year in the 2010 Washington Teacher of the Year competition.
Danyell’s principal praises her ability “to locate that one ember that a student hides from other teachers and she stokes that ember until the student catches fire with a desire to learn.” Michelle is known for accommodating the unique needs of every student while maintaining high expectations.
After receiving the award this fall, Michelle wrote us to say:
“My master’s program at WSU was one of the most influential professional experiences of my career. I still think about it fondly. The professionalism of the faculty in my program inspired me to achieve at a higher level than I thought possible.”
Inspiring students to surpass their own expectations may be the most important hallmark of an exceptional teacher preparation program.