Starting Strong

A new report, Starting Strong: How to Improve Teachers’ Entry into the Profession, from the Center for American Progress explores the challenges facing inexperienced teachers’ entry into teaching, highlights some of the early outcomes of model programs, and proposes an expansion of supported entry programs for prospective and new teachers. Excerpts appear below:

When a new doctor first enters the profession, she is not immediately handed the scalpel. When a lawyer graduates from law school, he is not immediately expected to try significant cases, especially without support from a team. And yet when teachers are first handed the keys to their classrooms, they are each suddenly responsible for the futures of dozens of students. These new teachers rarely receive the necessary training or guidance to ensure that their first months, or even years, on the job are positive and productive. To ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to excel from day one, prospective and new teachers should have the opportunity to learn from mentor teachers, practice essential teaching skills, and gradually improve their practice.

Programs that support gradual entry into the teaching profession-including extended clinical preparation, residencies, and induction programs-provide this opportunity. Through these programs, prospective and new teachers spend more time working alongside experienced teachers, observing strong instruction and management, and receiving valuable feedback. This allows them to slowly gain more responsibility to plan and lead lessons. Often, these new teachers also participate in advanced coursework to better understand the underlying philosophies that shape excellent teaching as they begin their practice.

The value of supported entry programs is twofold: Clinical training experiences will increase the number of teachers who are effective from the start; they also increase the proportion of teachers who are able to reach excellence and mastery in their early teaching years, thereby increasing the number of expert, experienced teachers in the highest-need classrooms.

Like medical residencies, programs that improve prospective and beginning teachers’ skills early on could transform the experience of the first years of teaching. Rethinking teachers’ entry into the profession would offer prospective and new teachers the opportunity to learn from the best, practice teaching, and master essential skills before being handed keys to their own classrooms. If every teacher experienced a more gradual entry into the profession, they could move from sink or swim to backstroke or butterfly.

It matters little if teachers participate in supported entry programs during or after graduation from a preparation program. However, it is critical that all teachers-both prospective and new-have access to experiences that allow them to practice critical teaching skills and learn from expert teachers with proven track records of success. Whether such programs are run by traditional teacher preparation programs, districts, or alternative certification providers, they have great potential to transform teachers’ entry into the teaching profession.

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