MTA calls for big changes in teacher preparation and support

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The way teachers are trained and licensed for the profession requires a significant overhaul, according to a report released today by the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s Center for Education Policy and Practice. The report, Tomorrow’s Teachers: Preparing the Education Workforce for 21st Century Schools, analyzes weaknesses in the current system and recommends a series of reforms.

“Improvements in the system are needed to make sure prospective and new teachers are well trained in teaching strategies, have strong content knowledge and are well supported in their early years in the classroom,” said CEPP Director Kathleen Skinner, the principal author of the report. “Better preparation will help teachers become more successful and keep them in the profession."

Skinner noted that inadequate preparation leads to high turnover rates. High turnover, in turn, contributes heavily to teacher shortages in certain disciplines and in some parts of the state.

“I commend the Center for Education Policy and Practice for this timely contribution to the dialogue about how to ensure our teachers are prepared to help students master 21st-century skills,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville. “As we move forward to implement Governor Patrick’s education action agenda, we will be considering a number of the report’s recommendations about how to improve teacher preparation.”

The MTA report addresses three areas that are identified for action in the governor’s education agenda: Reform the licensure process; partner with state teacher colleges to develop a statewide teacher residency program; and, update Massachusetts teacher preparation programs for 21st -century teaching.

Among other reforms, Tomorrow’s Teachers calls for:

  • Increasing the number of hours prospective teachers spend in the field as observers, interns and student teachers.
  • Increasing the amount of coursework in teaching skills – called pedagogy – that pre-service teachers must take, while continuing to maintain the requirement that they obtain a degree in a specific content area.
  • Establishing strong partnerships between higher education teacher preparation programs and local school districts so that student-teachers receive more feedback, guidance and hands-on training prior to receiving their licenses.
  • Establishing a position of “new teacher developer” in districts to work with the growing number of pre-service and novice teachers to make sure they are receiving the coaching and support they need to succeed in the classroom.
  • Replacing the state-specific Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure with the Praxis tests developed by the Educational Testing Service and used in 44 other states. This change would increase the pool of applicants in the state since graduates who have taken the Praxis tests in other states would be able to apply for teaching jobs in Massachusetts.

“Tomorrow’s Teachers is a comprehensive approach to strengthening teacher training and the teacher licensure system in the Commonwealth,” said Robert Antonioni, Senate Chair of Education for the past decade. “This policy brief clearly identifies many of the top concerns within the teaching field and, most important, offers focused, practical recommendations that are critical to continuing Massachusetts’ strong performance in the classroom. I strongly believe investments in teacher training and teacher licensure reform will be two of the most important components of any future reforms in public education.”

MTA President Anne Wass, who spent 31 years as a middle school teacher, said she believes that future teachers would benefit greatly from spending more time working directly with students under the guidance of an experienced teacher before being put in charge of their own classrooms.

“All the content knowledge in the world won’t make you a good teacher if you don’t know how to relate to a diverse group of students and how to explain concepts to them effectively in different ways,” she said.