by Melanie C. Gonzalez, University of Central Florida
During teacher appreciation week a few years ago, one of my students presented me with a teddy bear sporting a colorful t-shirt with fireworks exploding exuberantly from the phrase: “Teachers make a difference!” This statement can be found everywhere from teacher union slogans to research and even within President Obama’s state of the union address. Yet, our nation has struggled throughout its half-century history in education to maintain quality teaching in America’s classrooms. Therefore the question remains: if teachers do make a difference, then why are they not making a better difference for our children?
Some research and many media outlets report simply that it is because there are not enough “good” teachers. With record high graduation numbers reported from colleges of education and alternative teacher preparation programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2009), it seems the issue lies not in the number of teachers entering the field, but perhaps the startling number of these teachers leaving. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 30% of teachers depart the profession within three to five years of beginning teaching. This number rises to a startling 50% in urban districts (2010). The National Education Association looked into why so many newly hired teachers flee and found that the number one cause for the high attrition rates was due to a lack of sufficient preparation for the realities of the classroom (2003). This sense of ill-preparedness caused new teachers to feel isolated and burnt out. With the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation in the next decade, education stands to lose an additional 28% of the workforce. Therefore, the attrition rate of new teachers needs curbing and begs solutions to the age-old question of how can we better prepare and reform teacher preparation programs to keep good teachers in the classroom.
An examination of the history of teacher preparation in the U.S. reveals that as early as the 19th century, administrators and leaders have debated fiercely on the most effective program to educate future teachers (Fraser, 2007). Through efforts to standardize, unify, and regulate teacher standards, the college of education became known as the traditional route to prepare teachers. However, due to demands of a rising population and varying debates on the merits of pedagogical knowledge versus content knowledge, an abundance of alternative certification programs sprung up. The aim of these alternative programs was to draw more out of field teachers into education. While the minimum requirements to teach are pretty much set in stone largely due to 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act, the pathways to certification remain varied in their scope and sequence.
In 2000, Darling-Hammond, compared graduates of colleges of education to graduates of alternative certification programs. She found that teachers from the four- or five-year long university-based programs remain teaching much longer than teachers recruited from alternative programs, citing better preparation as the key factor to their longevity. However, before completely writing off alternative programs, it is important to reiterate that the definition of an alternative program ranges anywhere from month-long online teaching boot camps with minimal field experience to programs that integrate content and methods coursework within longitudinal clinical experiences and mentoring initiatives. The NCEI estimates that the average state reports about 122 different alternative routes to teaching (2005). Without a clearer sense of what constitutes a traditional versus alternative route, it is difficult to make assumptions on which is the better program.
Despite the large number of possible roads leading to teaching, each one arrives at the same destination: the classroom. New teachers are voicing their frustration with preparation programs by leaving teaching early in their career. This feeling of inadequate preparation undermines the profession and makes it difficult to maintain a stable and high-quality teaching force. Therefore, to maintain excellence in our nation’s schools, it is important to look more closely at the factors leading to beginning teacher burnout and what aspects can be addressed in pre-service programs and how best to support new teachers.
After all, teachers can make a difference for better or for worse, including those who teach America’s teachers.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Solving the dilemmas of teacher, supply, demand, and quality. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. Retrieved from http://nctaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/supply-demand-standards.pdf
Fraser, J.W. (2007). Preparing America’s teachers: A history. New York: Teacher’s College Press.
National Center for Education Statistics (2010). Teacher attrition and mobility. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010353
National Center of Education Information. (2005). Alternative routes to teacher certification: An overview. Retrieved from http://www.ncei.com/Alt-Teacher-Cert.html
National Education Association (2003). Research spotlight on recruitment and retention. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/tools/16977.htm