SXSWedu Session Review: Build a Better Teacher

teacher prep panel

What does it take these days to prepare a teacher for the classroom? This was a question I heard floating around in the hallways and lounges at SXSWedu this year—it started on Monday afternoon with Diane Ravitch’s session, in which she declared that the Teach for America program needs a major overhaul, and that 5 weeks (the TFA training time for new teachers) is not long enough to adequately prepare a person to be a teacher.

The following day, in an appropriately timed announcement, Teach for America revealed their plans to pilot a group of its new teacher recruits with a one-year training program. This will be compared with the current five-week “institute” that TFA recruits attend. It will be interesting to see how the groups compare and whether the additional training will prove beneficial for the recruits in the trial group.

One day after that announcement was made, I attended the “Building a Better Teacher” panel at SXSWedu, where Jessica Guthrie of Teach for America, Jon Engelhardt of Baylor University, and Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Equality all weighed in on the development and measurement of effective teachers.

I found some of the data Kate Walsh referenced to be particularly jarring, including:

  • There are currently 1.5 million kids being taught by a novice teacher
  • The odds of a student getting a “great” teacher 5 years in a row is 1 in 17,000

So what does it mean to be a “great” teacher? The National Council on Teacher Quality has defined it as a teacher whose students achieve learning gains of around 1.2 years of learning in 1 year of schooling.

Jon Engelhardt advised that schools provide new teachers (regardless of their prep program) with a mentor. He specified that this should be a real mentor, not someone who just touches base with the novice teacher twice a year. He said that mentoring the new teacher should be a part of the mentor’s job description, and they should provide advice and feedback to their mentee on a regular basis.

The session reminded me of an article I once read by Malcolm Gladwell—it’s about how we determine whether someone will make a good teacher—and he calls for an apprenticeship system in which new teachers are rigorously evaluated after they have started their jobs (because, as he says, there is no way to tell whether someone will be a good teacher based on his or her performance in school).

While listening to the panelists, I found myself wondering how technology could help new teachers transition into their role. If a school had digital curriculum available for the novice teachers to access, it might help take some of the load off their shoulders and provide them the opportunity to focus on the other important aspects of getting started as a teacher (e.g., classroom management).

What are your thoughts? Can technology help? How do you implement and manage a mentoring program that works? Please weigh in via the comments section below!


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