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International Perspective Teacher Preparation

New Paradigm in Teacher Education, What Do Teachers Need to Know?

All nations have established specialized institutions and particular processes by which prospective teachers are educated; however these institutions and processes vary in their structure, goals, and organization around the world. The variation is not only due to expected differences across countries and cultures, but also to a major transition that the field of teacher education has been undergoing in developed countries since the late 1980s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century this transition has also begun to affect several developing nations. For years, the preparation of teachers was described as teacher training; this label reflected the actual process of giving prospective teachers or noncertified in-service teachers some subject matter knowledge and some pedagogical tools so that they could transfer information to their students. That is still the case in a majority of developing countries, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where the shortage of certified teachers still is found to be a major factor in the kind of teacher education offered.

However, the trend is to use teacher training only to refer to specific short-term training that teachers may receive, mostly on the job, to learn a particular skill (for example, a training session or unit on the use of computers) and to refer to the preparation of teachers as professional development, as it reflects more effectively the fact that teachers are professionals, their job is a complex process of helping students learn, and thus their preparation is not a one-shot training, but rather a lifelong process of learning and development. Professional development includes formal experiences (such as completing a program of initial teacher preparation, and also attending workshops, institutes, and professional meetings, mentoring, completing research, etc.) and informal experiences (such as reading professional publications, viewing television specials related to an academic discipline, joining study groups with other teachers, etc.).

New Paradigm in Teacher Education

This perspective of teacher education as a long-term process that includes regular opportunities and experiences planned systematically to promote growth and development in the profession has been welcomed by educators everywhere. This shift has been so dramatic that many have referred to it as a new image of teacher learning, a new model of teacher education, a revolution in education, and even a new paradigm of professional development.

This new paradigm of teacher education has several characteristics. First of all, it is based on constructivism rather than on a transmission-oriented model. As a consequence, teachers are treated as active learners who are engaged in the concrete tasks of teaching, assessment, observation, and reflection. Several research studies have shown that when the constructivist method is used in the preparation of teachers, the results are quite positive: teachers who are engaged, reflective, thoughtful, and effective. A few new studies, however, have been critical of this method, as it appears to be most effective only with middle-class learners, or only when used in very specific contexts and under certain conditions, something that could potentially limit the effectiveness of its use in teacher education.

It is also conceived of as a long-term process, as it acknowledges that teachers learn over time. As a result, connected experiences (rather than one-shot presentations) are thought of as most effective as they allow teachers to relate prior knowledge with new experiences. Regular follow-up support is perceived as an "indispensable catalyst of the change process" (Schifter, Russell, and Bastable, p. 30).

This approach to teacher education is conceived as a process that takes place in a particular context. Contrary to the traditional staff development opportunities that did not connect the "training" with the actual experiences in the classroom, the most effective professional development is based in schools, connected to the daily activities of teachers and learners. Schools are transformed into communities of learners, communities of inquiry, professional communities, and caring communities because teachers are engaged in professional development activities. The most successful teacher development opportunities are "on the job learning" activities such as study groups, action research, and portfolios.

Many identify this process as one that is intimately linked to school reform since professional development is a process of culture building, and not just skill-training, that is affected by the coherence of the school program. In this case, teachers are empowered as professionals; they should be treated in the same ways as society expects them to treat students. Teachers' professional development that is not supported by school and curriculum reform is not effective.

With this approach to teacher education and professional development, a teacher is considered a reflective practitioner, someone who comes into the profession with a certain knowledge base and who will build new knowledge and experiences based on that prior knowledge. For this reason, the role of professional development is to facilitate teachers' building new pedagogical theory and practice and help teachers improve their expertise in the field.

Professional development is regarded as a collaborative process. Even though there may be some opportunities for isolated work and reflection, most effective professional development happens when there are meaningful interactions, not only among teachers, but also with administrators, parents, and other community members.

Professional development may look and be very different in diverse settings, and even within one setting there may be a variety of dimensions. There is not "one best" form or model of professional development that can be implemented anywhere. Schools and educators must evaluate their needs and cultural beliefs and practices to decide which professional development model may be most successful in that particular context. It is clear in the literature that workplace factors (one significant variable of "the context") such as school structure and school culture can influence teachers' sense of efficacy and professional motivation. Apparent contradictory results reported in the literature (such as the fact that some studies conclude that the best professional development is that designed and implemented at a smaller scale, while others say that it is better at a larger, system-approach scale) may be explained not by deciding that one study is more accurate than another, but by examining the contexts in which the different studies were completed. In his 1995 article, "Results-Oriented Professional Development: In Search of an Optimal Mix of Effective Practices," Thomas Guskey argues strongly about the importance of paying attention to context so that the "optimal mix" of professional development processes can be identified and planned. In other words, professional development has to be considered within a framework of social, economic, and political trends and events. In another 1995 article, "Professional Development in Education," Guskey writes: "The uniqueness of the individual setting will always be a critical factor in education. What works in one situation may not work in another …. Because of the enormous variability in educational contexts, there will never be 'one right answer.' Instead, there will be a collection of answers, each specific to a context. Our search must focus, therefore, on finding the optimal mix–that assortment of professional development processes and technologies that work best in a particular setting" (p. 117).

This new form of teacher education has had a significant positive impact on teachers' beliefs and practices, students' learning, and on the implementation of education reforms. In fact, Linda Darling-Hammond noted in a 1999 article in the Journal of Staff Development that "investments in teachers' knowledge and skills net greater increases in students' achievement [in the United States] than other uses of an education dollar" (p. 32).

What Do Teachers Need to Know?

For years, educators and other related professionals have argued whether teacher preparation should emphasize content knowledge or pedagogical knowledge. Under this new model of teacher professional development, there is a recognition that the work of teachers is complex and thus needs a broad and inclusive perspective. Authors including Anne Grosso de Leon, Anne Reynolds, Robert Glaser, Hilda Borko and Ralph Putnam, and Olugbemiro Jegede, Margaret Taplin, and Sing-Lai Chan have offered lists of types of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and values that effective teachers must have a mastery of. They include:

  • General pedagogical knowledge. This includes knowledge of learning environments and instructional strategies; classroom management; and knowledge of learners and learning.
  • Subject-matter knowledge. This includes knowledge of content and substantive structures and syntactic structures (equivalent to knowledge about a discipline).
  • Pedagogical content knowledge. A conceptual map of how to teach a subject; knowledge of instructional strategies and representations; knowledge of students' understanding and potential misunderstandings; and knowledge of curriculum and curricular materials.
  • Knowledge of student context and a disposition to find out more about students, their families, and their schools. Knowledge and disposition to involved families in the day-to-day work of the schools.
  • A repertoire of metaphors in order to be able to bridge theory and practice.
  • External evaluation of learning.
  • Clinical training.
  • Knowledge of strategies, techniques, and tools to create and sustain a learning environment or community, and the ability to employ them.
  • Knowledge, skills, and dispositions to work with children of diverse cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds. A multicultural perspective in teacher preparation is crucial for an effective program of teacher education and professional development.
  • Knowledge and attitudes that support political and social justice as social realities make teachers very important agents of social change. In some extreme situations (such as that of South Africa after the apartheid regime and Namibia after gaining independence), this aspect of the professional work of a teacher is more emphasized and thus institutions of teacher preparation have adopted this as a requirement of their programs. Michael Samuel, Katarina Norberg, and others argue that the development of this critical consciousness should be part of teacher preparation, not only in extreme cases, but also in all countries and contexts.
  • Knowledge and skills on how to use technology in the curriculum. In a 2001 article in Language Arts, Evangeline Pianfetti lists a number of "virtual opportunities for professional development," and also a number of Internet sites with information about grant providers that support professional development efforts to educate teachers about new technologies in the classroom.

Twenty-First Century Trends in Teacher Education and Professional Development

Most countries acknowledge that initial or pre-service teacher education is just the first step in a longer process of professional development, and not the only preparation teachers will receive. A majority of countries are beginning to require the same level of preparation for all teachers, regardless of the level they will teach, and the worldwide trend is toward requiring a minimum of a bachelor's degree to enter programs that prepare teachers.

In terms of the content of teacher preparation programs, different countries vary in their emphasis on particular components of the curriculum or the time devoted to each one. But in general, most include courses and experiences that address subject matter, foundation of education courses, professional studies (such as pedagogy and methods courses), and child development, and a practicum, or student teaching. The tendency in a majority of countries is to emphasize the teaching of content in the initial preparation and to emphasize the pedagogy in the practicum and programs of induction for new teachers as well as other professional development opportunities.

There are trends to increase the length of teacher preparation programs and to increase the amount of time pre-service teachers spend in practicum sites. Pre-service programs that provide opportunities for supervised practice teaching throughout the duration of the course are the most effective. There is a wide variation of length for this practical experience of student teachers in the world. In some countries where the practicum is short, teachers are required to have extensive in-service opportunity to practice under serious supervision.

In a number of developed and developing countries, the need for more teachers and the lack of candidates entering the profession have been fertile ground for the creation of a number of alternative teacher certification programs. These programs usually include a heavy component of in-service training and usually begin with a "crash course" on pedagogical knowledge that is completed in a very short amount of time. The creation and proliferation of such programs has generated great controversy in most countries where they exist.

Among more recent developments is a tendency to offer new teachers some support in the form of "induction programs." Induction programs are planned and systematic programs of sustained assistance to beginning teachers. Finally, the trend in "in-service education" is to offer a variety of opportunities for professional development that go beyond the "one-shot" short course or workshop traditionally offered to experienced teachers.


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