Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 7, 1996 Form

Teaching Teachers
To Teach

Education: The Division
of Education has led the
way in reforming teacher

Christine A. Rowett
News and Information

During the 1992 presidential campaign, political spin doctors attempted to simplify the myriad campaign issues by stating, "It's the economy, stupid." If education reform had its own set of spin doctors, they might just be saying, "It's teaching, stupid."

A recent report issued by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future contends that the most important strategy for improving this country's education system is recruiting, preparing and supporting excellent teachers.

At Hopkins, experts in the School of Continuing Studies' Division of Education have long stood by that assertion, and have been developing programs that examine and improve the quality of teacher training.

"The waves of school reform we've experienced to date have looked at standards, curriculum and how we look at schools," Division of Education director Ralph Fessler said. "But what this report says, very clearly, is that while all those things are important, at the center of school reform, you have to have good teachers.

The report, released in August after a two-year study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, cites "painfully slipshod teacher recruitment" practices," "major flaws in teacher preparation" and "unenforced standards" as obstacles blocking excellence in teaching.

The 151-page report also offers several recommendations for improvements; many of those same ideas are included in the ten principles behind the Division of Education's School Immersion Master of Arts in Teaching Program.

One of the commission's first recommendations, for example, is the development of "extended, graduate-level teacher-preparation programs that provide a yearlong internship in a professional development school."

SI-MAT students--whether just out of college or returning to school for a career change--are immersed in a 15-month internship that involves them with a single class throughout the entire academic year while they continue with their own studies.

"These internships are probably the first time some of these students have been exposed to students," said Lenore Cohen, an assistant professor at Hopkins and coordinator of Professional Development Schools in Howard County. "One of the ways in which to really understand schools, the culture of schools and how to learn is to be in them."

Swansfield third-grade teacher Fannie Avery has been teaching for 29 years; she says both she and her students benefit by having another adult with a new perspective in the classroom.

"I'm at the end of my career, so I'm not likely to go back to college," Avery said. "But I'm learning through the interns. They learn the newest theories and they come here and we work on them together. It's a growth process for both of us."

In assessing the qualifications of newly hired teachers in 1990-91, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future concluded that less than 75 percent of all teachers have degrees in their subject area.

Division of Education associate director Shelly Ingram, the former assistant state superintendent of certification and accreditation for the Maryland Department of Education, agrees that more emphasis should be placed on what future teachers are learning. "I am convinced that we owe it to our children to become masters of content," Ingram said. "Teachers who are not masters of content cannot be role models. It's pretty basic."

At Hopkins, education students must have a strong liberal arts background with science, math and technology included and a major in their academic discipline. Graduate teacher education students must have had related coursework or experiences before being accepted into the program.

"We examine the transcripts," Fessler said. "We make sure they have that content background. If not, we'll have them go back and take the necessary content courses."

Though the commission's review of teacher education is critical, Fessler said educators should not be defensive about the report. Instead they should take a closer look at programs that are working and accept the challenge to improve teacher education.

"There are a lot of things going on the country, attempts to reform teacher education," he said, citing programs at the University of Washington, Ohio State and Columbia Teacher's College. "And I think some of the Hopkins programs are serving as models of what teacher education can become."

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