Alabama is doing a better job these days of preparing teachers for the classroom, according to a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Alabama received a grade of B- for its teacher preparation policies in 2012, up from a C in 2011 after adopting several policy-tightening standards.
Alabama is one of just four states to earn a B- and one of 14 states to improve its teacher preparation grade from the previous year. The average grade, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is a D+.
The organization recently released its sixth annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook, a tailored, state-by-state analysis that identifies and reviews teacher preparation policy areas most in need of critical attention and identifies ways Alabama could improve its alternate routes into teaching.
The report also provides special focus on the state laws, rules and regulations that shape teacher preparation.
National Council on Teacher Quality President Kate Walsh said policymakers must have good road maps on how to get teacher effectiveness from the start, by setting higher expectations for what teachers need to know and are able to do before they are licensed as teachers.
“With so much attention on the issue of teacher effectiveness, the relative lack of attention to how candidates for teaching are prepared for the job in the first place is puzzling,” Walsh said.
“Our teachers deserve the best preparation so they can step into the classroom and help our students prepare to be the most successful in the world.”
The Yearbook report finds that 64 percent of undergraduate preparation programs in Alabama are insufficiently selective, failing to ensure that candidates come from the top half of the college-going population.
Lisa Clayton, an assistant professor in the University of North Alabama Department of Education, said the process that prospective education students must go through for selection is rigorous. They must be in excellent academic standing with a 3.0 grade point average in education-related courses, go through an interview process and submit a written essay.
“We go through every candidate’s information and consider each person very carefully to make sure that we’re getting students who’ll succeed in the program,” Clayton said.
Sheffield schools Superintendent Tim Morgan said being particular in the selection process isn’t just confined to education program entrances. That’s a process that must continue from college into the teaching workforce, he said.
“Principals should be very selective in putting student teacher interns with good, quality teachers,” Morgan said. “Those student teachers are there to learn alongside the teachers and likewise, teachers learn from the student interns by getting fresh ideas.”
Morgan said there’s great collaboration between UNA and the area’s k-12 school systems.
“They keep us informed on what’s going on in higher education with their laws and accountability and we share our classroom perspectives,” Morgan said.
Partnerships like the Northwest Alabama Educational Partnership between UNA and area school district officials are just another way of connecting K-12 systems and the local university that’s training the future teaching workforce.
“It’s a great partnership because there’s data shared at these meetings that helps all of us,” Clayton said.
Judging from her own experiences in the education program at UNA, Brooke Willis, a first-year teacher at L.E. Wilson Elementary School in Sheffield, said she can understand why Alabama is gaining in the ranks in teacher preparedness.
She said the state’s emphasis on strong classroom role models for student teacher interns goes a long ways toward preparing a prospective new teacher.
“Placement with good, solid teachers is possibly the most important aspect of the experience for a training teacher,” she said. “I was fortunate to have the school’s teacher of the year as my supervising teacher. She allowed me to ask questions and observe her teaching and slowly moved me into the teaching aspect in her room. She introduced me to technology I knew nothing about and gave me so many opportunities to learn. I never felt that I’d gotten stuck in a classroom. I was constantly learning, even after it was me doing the teaching.”
Willis said her confidence for teaching grew each semester while she was in the education program.
“I did so many observations (50 hours in one semester) and was exposed to so many different teaching strategies that by the time I graduated, I had confidence in knowing what my teaching style would be and how to adjust to the children I teach,” she said. “I remember thinking during college that it was just an incredible amount of material but now that I’m using that information I can really appreciate it.”
Clayton said her program’s students get in excess of 200 hours of clinical experience in the classroom, a state requirement that has proved to be a valuable tool in training teachers.
“This is hands-on work where our students are getting into the classrooms and working with children and getting a very diverse experience,” she said. “Through this process, the students are experiencing every type of classroom with every kind of student.”
As for the state’s grade of B-, Clayton said only she is shocked that it isn’t higher. At UNA, prospective teachers are trained in two state programs before they exit the program — the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative and the Alabama Reading Initiative.
“We’re putting out well-trained students who are ready to be in the classroom,” she said. “I certainly don’t foresee any lowering of standards.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
State Teacher Policy Yearbook online
The national Council on Teacher Quality released its sixth annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Included is the Improving Teacher Preparation in Alabama report at nctq.org/stpy.
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