In my job working with pre-service teachers, I repeatedly encounter situations in which I have to ask students to slow down and think more carefully about what it takes to become a good teacher. I love Fresno State students and believe in their abilities, but I think that sometimes my students are in too much of a rush to get through school. I understand that this urgency often grows out of their economic situations–and I worry about the loans that students take out and the difficulty of balancing work, family, and academic responsibilities. But I also believe that my job involves consideration not just of my students’ immediate needs but also of their long-term goals . . . and the academic experiences of the students they will teach.
Too many new teachers leave the profession within 3-5 years. The Washington Post reported in August of 2010:
A new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality showed that just 57 percent of new teachers hired three years ago are still in the system–in other words, 43 percent are gone. Levy places the three-year DCPS attrition at 59 percent.
Moreover, the study found that retention rates decline as the number of students with low-income backgrounds increases. Schools with poverty rates of between 50 and 75 percent have a three-year retention rate of 67 percent. In schools where between 85 and 95 percent of the students are poor, retention falls to 53 percent.
As an instructor of pre-service teachers in an area with high unemployment and poverty rates, I am concerned about these statistics. I see students in my classes who go into teaching for very idealistic reasons; sometimes I wonder what will happen to them when they experience the realities of teaching. Will they have the knowledge and the temperament to adjust their dreams and become the intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful teachers that the profession needs? Or will their lack of preparation lead them to look for another profession? Worse, will they become disillusioned, apathetic teachers who just try to make it through each school day?
At my university, I see a structure in place to rush students through the credential program. Most students expect to finish their teacher preparation within one year–which means that they will take 19 units one semester and 16 the next. Too often, I hear from students who feel that they should skip even this training–they want to jump into a profession without the necessary preparation. The result of this eagerness to finish, sometimes, is that they do the bare minimum to get by in their classes, never fully giving their attention and consideration to learning what makes good (and bad) teaching.
As I begin a new semester in which I will play not only the role of credential coordinator but face the necessity of trying to prepare students in one semester to teach English/Language Arts (teaching reading comprehension, literary analysis, writing AND curriculum design), I wonder how I can more effectively intervene to help students slow down, focus, and really learn how to enter into and become part of the professional teaching community.