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How Many Valid Gateways Lead
To the Public School Classroom?

Scorpio Sphinx Alternatives 2-15-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

The second day of the Association of Teacher Educators Conference in Chicago began inauspiciously. The combination of excitement, intense intellectual engagement, social repartee, and minimal sleep prevented me from rising at my intended hour. Added to my subdued physical state was a technological breakdown — the alarm clock's refusal to jangle at the appointed minute. I dressed in record time, missed breakfast, and managed to get to my first session just before it ended. What a disappointment — not the presentation, which was great, but my tardiness.

Voices of Stakeholders.

Presented by three colleagues from the University of Arkansas Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Assessment of a Collaborative Teacher Preparation Program: Voices of Stakeholders appealed to me because of my involvement in the program. My colleagues — Drs. LaVonne Kirkpatrick, Felicia Lincoln, and Linda Morrow — teach in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

In the assessment, novice teachers, mentor teachers, and administrators in the MAT agreed to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the teacher preparation program. Their research revealed evidence of effective teaching by the novice teachers in the fifth and final year of the program.

Novice Teachers Score High.

Administrators used criteria from Pathwise, a well-known teacher assessment tool, to evaluate the novice teachers. In all four domains (organizing content knowledge for student learning, creating an environment for student learning, teaching for student learning, and teacher professionalism), novice teachers scored above 4.0 on a 1-5 scale.

The strengths of MAT, as identified by administrators who took the survey, are preparation, classroom experience, and personal skills. Weaknesses included the teaching of students with special needs and classroom management.

Mentor teachers for the most part agreed with the administrators in identifying MAT's strengths, but they added that lack of professionalism is a weakness.

Identifying the Strong Points.

Novice teachers identified several strong points: readiness to teach, an experiential fifth-year internship, a entrée into the profession (many were hired by the district in which they interned), and an opportunity to compare the reality of teaching to the idea of teaching. They also agreed that classroom management and preparation for teaching special needs children are areas of weakness.

Kirkpatrick, Lincoln, and Morrow concluded that novice teachers need more practice with classroom management and more experience in teaching children with special needs. They reported that the fifth year internship is beneficial. Administrators identified a need for more MAT graduates.

For teacher educators, the survey raises "emerging patterns and implications" well worth serious consideration. Teacher educators should collaborate with all participants to re-examine the teacher preparation program. They should maintain a dialogue with all participants to ensure successful collaboration. They should also conduct on-going and meaningful research, and promote involvement of all stakeholders.

Kirkpatrick, Lincoln, and Morrow provided a thoughtful handout, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on the presentation and extrapolate these key points for the consideration of my readers.

As for the next presentation on my agenda, it was easy enough to be on time. It was in the same room. I didn't even have to pull out my conference map.

Alternative Licensure,
Web-Based Portfolios.

Novice Teachers Develop Web-based Portfolios, presented by Belinda Gimbert and Dean Cristol, promised to address two aspects of education I've been thinking about for some time: alternative licensure for public educators and web-based portfolios. The promise was fulfilled, especially in light of the current debate surrounding alternative licensure.

Gimbert is from the Newport News Public Schools and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the World Campus of Pennsylvania State University in Newport News, Virginia. Cristol, who hails from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, headed a grant by the U.S. Department of Education to develop an alternative path to licensure in a "high-need urban" school system, the Newport News Public Schools.

The Transition to Teaching Grant is funded for five years by No Child Left Behind federal legislation. The goal of the grant is to entice more people into the teaching profession through the design and implementation of an alternative path to licensure. Members of the target audience include college graduates, professionals interested in switching careers, and paraprofessionals with classroom experience.

Allowing for On-Going Assessment.

The presentation focused on one novel aspect of professional development: the creation of a web-based portfolio to help novice teachers identify teaching competencies. The "LiveText" software platform supports data collection and analysis, and interaction between mentor and novice to allow an on-going assessment of the novice teacher's progress toward meeting state standards.

Letha Brooks, a school-based mentor with experience in the Transition to Teaching program, and novice teacher Holly Kidd (originally from Fayetteville) shared their perspectives about the program and how the portfolio anchored their classroom experience to state standards.

The presentation was outstanding, dynamically illustrating the need for society to open licensure opportunities to knowledgeable, committed, dedicated people with a desire to join the teaching profession through routes other than the traditional four or five year teacher education programs. Formulation of high-quality, intensive, praxis-oriented programs leading to licensure are very realistic, as the Transition to Teaching project proves.

The Vision of an Alternative Gateway.

One of the ultimate ironies of the teaching profession is that education promotes critical thinking and creative approaches to problem solving, yet when we arrive at our own schoolyard, educators remain rooted in traditional procedures for getting from point A to point B. Paths to alternative licensure do not mean that we devalue traditional routes to certification. It simply means that we expand our vision to make another way for the cadre of qualified teacher candidates who want to enter the classroom from an alternative gateway.

What does research demonstrate about the value and impact of teachers in alternative licensure programs? Can we find valid comparisons between traditional and alternative paths regarding teacher effectiveness, attrition, and student and teacher performance? I don't have the answers. Do you? I would be glad to share them with readers of Planet Gnosis.

A Taxi, Memories of the Train,
and a Swift Jet to the Mountains.

Pondering the provocative questions raised by Gimbert and Cristol's presentation, I had to hurry back to my room and pack for the return flight back Northwest Arkansas. I was traveling with the aforementioned threesome from the U of A. Our rendezvous was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. in the hotel lobby. We made it just on time and shared a taxi to O'Hare. I mildly regretted not taking the train again, but the weather was wet and cold, and I would have had to walk three blocks to the station. It worked out well enough.

The journey back to Arkansas, arduous enough in the best of circumstances, required an extra expenditure of patience. At the airport we learned that our flight had been canceled. After much negotiation and persistence, our cadre of weary travelers found seats on a later flight, but darkness had already settled over the mountains when the jet touched down. Our university in the hills of Arkansas seemed awfully remote from the spires guarding the Chicago River, but as Dorothy Gale says, "There's no place like home."

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