Source: The New Educator, 17:2, 119-140
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This paper intends to demonstrate how within the current contentious environment for teacher education in the U.S., two small teacher preparation programs conducted a voluntary coordinated long-term self-evaluation study, that partially responded to external accountability pressures by the Federal administration, state agencies and various private and non-governmental organizations.
In particular, the author focuses on findings about graduates’ preparation experiences and sense of preparedness for teaching, as well as how they perceived their faculty strengths and weaknesses and programs’ effectiveness.
Such an in-depth examination of graduates’ perspectives can serve not only for internal self-study purposes, but also as an example to other preparation programs looking to comply with external accountability requirements, while preserving an independent voice in the process and developing meaningful tools for self-assessment and improvement.
Data and methods
This study was motivated by the author’s role and responsibilities as a teacher educator researcher and the collaboration he established with JTEP faculty and leaders.
The study reflects a commitment by JTEP faculty to pursue an extensive long-term collaborative self-study initiative to understand how they are perceived by student-teachers and how their teaching and preparation are experienced by student-teachers.
As part of this collaboration, the researchers developed a mixed method research that draws on two types of data – longitudinal surveys administered annually for six consecutive years and filled by graduates from the two sister programs, and semi-structured interviews with JTEP faculty leaders.
This combined dataset is intended to offer critical feedback and paint a more accurate and nuanced picture (based on multiple sources) about graduates’ experiences and sense of preparedness to teach and implement key professional standards promoted by the two sister programs.
Survey data from program graduates
Survey data were administered and collected from all JTEP graduates in MA college and a CA college (Cohorts 6 through 11, N = 103) with a response rate of 90%.
This research focuses on survey’s questions concerning the graduates’ perceptions of program characteristics, faculty characteristics and sense of preparedness for teaching.
Most questions were selected or adopted from large-scale studies in general education and were carefully validated twice; through statistical validation by the original creators of the items and through an internal vetting process by multiple JTEP faculty from the two programs who carefully assessed each and every item.
Interviews with program leaders
Besides analyzing survey responses, this research draws on a complementary set of semi-structured interviews with JTEP leaders at the two colleges.
Specifically, the researchers wanted to learn how program leaders perceive and understand their graduates’ assessment of the program, its faculty, and the graduates’ own sense of preparedness for teaching.
The semi-structured interviews with program faculty were designed to gather elaborated responses to a restricted set of questions in order to understand the faculty's perspective on the issues at hand.
The author views the qualitative interview as a joint venture, a dialogue of the interviewer and interviewee that “. . . touches upon the subjective worlds of interviewed individuals, tries to enter and understand them by means of focusing on the production of meaning” (Kuzmanic, 2009, p. 44).
Interviews’ contents were coded through open categories and themes that were partially based on findings from previous studies.
The findings from the interviews were also used to help confirm or challenge hypotheses framed by the author.
Findings and discussion
The findings from this inquiry align well with previous research on effective teacher education and reinforce the need for all teacher education programs to (a) include a robust clinical component of mentored internship aligned with professional coursework (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012), (b) articulate and model a strong vision of good teaching (Darling-Hammond et al., 2000; McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanagh, 2013), and (c) prepare teachers to teach the array of general and/or Jewish subjects for which they are responsible.
The latter has been critical for years in public schools, but is becoming important also in day schools given the increasing value of academic excellence (Sharon Feiman-Nemser et al., 2014).
Recommendations for JTEP and other teacher education programs
One overarching lesson that both JTEP and the wider field of teacher education may want to consider is the importance of developing clarity around program-wide commitments and how they play out across a program.
The author’s findings suggest that the presence of common “behavioral goals” in JTEP may account for the strong sense of consistency that most students experienced about their coursework as promoting a particular kind of teaching across courses.
Furthermore, faculty testimonies together with graduates’ responses offer some evidence that JTEP inducts teacher candidates into an explicit vision of good teaching which is reinforced across the program.
For example, the findings about reflection provide evidence that students recognize when programs demonstrate commitment to particular ideas and practices.
JTEP holds reflection to be fundamental for a novice teacher and students agreed that they had many opportunities to use reflection to support their learning.
The findings also suggest that a program’s (and that include general education programs) passion and systematic approach to implementing particular ideas (such as explicit vision of good teaching) are key for having a strong impact on students.
Similarly, the findings also suggest a high level of coherence across program components, that is, JTEP’s college courses and students’ field experiences.
Such alignment can be honed and solidified by any program that desires to pursue such process.
Faculty at JTEP acknowledged the challenge of creating alignment with the field and spoke of strategies they use to foster it.
For example, a faculty member who teaches a core pedagogy course described the weekly e-mails she sends to the clinical educators who work with students in the field.
In addition, the program offers a monthly study group for mentor teachers led by the instructor of the core pedagogy course.
These are just two examples of practical steps that both Jewish and general education programs can use to foster better communication and alignment of ideas with mentor teachers.
Findings from JTEP suggest that in order to foster a sense of a coherent professional learning community among students, it is recommended to design a small, cohort-based program.
Moreover, it is recommended that programs intentionally create opportunities that enable students to learn how to interact and collaborate professionally and support one another’s learning through engagement in small and whole group discussions.
Finally, the findings indicate that students recognize efforts on the part of faculty to build strong relationships that are foundational to student growth.
Strong agreement on these characteristics may also explain why JTEP students generally agreed that the faculty were effective teachers.
The author realizes that it may be easier to implement the last two recommendations within a small-sized program, characterized by a cohesive student body (i.e., at JTEP, both faculty and student teachers share similar religious and ethnic identities).
Nonetheless, large preparation programs at public universities may divide their cohorts into smaller groups and create improved learning opportunities with substantial advantages for prospective teachers.
The author found that in order to help students learn and enact the program’s vision of good teaching, it was essential for faculty to model it throughout the program.
While a majority of graduates agreed that the faculty teach in ways that are consistent with the practices they advocate (76%), it is a relatively low percentage compared to other items on the survey.
This may suggest some challenges in modeling pedagogies associated with elementary education at the university level.
In conclusion, by taking ownership over the evaluation process and tracking its graduates over time, JTEP offers a self-study research model that other teacher preparation programs can embrace to collect and analyze systematic and reliable information about the preparation experiences of their teachers.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teaching for America's Future: National Commissions and Vested Interests in an Almost Profession. Educational Policy, 14(1), 162-183
Feiman-Nemser, S., Tamir, E., & Hammerness, K. (Eds.). (2014). Inspiring teaching: Preparing teachers to succeed in mission-driven schools. Cambrisge, MA: Harvard Eduaction Press
Kuzmanic, M. (2009). Appearance of truth through dialogue. Horizons of Psychology, 18(2), 39–50
McDonald, M., Kazemi, E., & Kavanagh, S. S. (2013). Core practices and pedagogies of teacher education: A call for a common language and collective activity. Journal of teacher education, 64(5), 378-386
Ronfeldt, M., & Reininger, M. (2012). More or better student teaching? Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(8), 1091–1106