Now more than ever, educational leaders and experts are discussing the need for change in teacher preparation programs. Equity-based challenges in the classroom have moved many to call for action, yet few individuals have talked about how this change can be accomplished.
University of South Florida (USF) faculty member Jennifer Jacobs, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Elementary Education program, co-authored a book on this topic with Rebecca Burns, PhD, a faculty member at the University of North Florida.
A reflection of their research interests and experiences, the book, titled “(Re)Designing Programs: A Vision for Equity-Centered, Clinically Based Teacher Preparation,” explores the current issues faced in K-12 schools and the need to flip teacher learning upside-down. We sat down with Dr. Jacobs about the book and her hopes for how it will support future and current educators.
Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Why did you publish a book about this topic?
I published the book in collaboration with Dr. Rebecca Burns. We decided to write it in response to the current state of teacher preparation. There have been so many different calls from major educational organizations about the need to redesign teacher preparation.
There’s been a lot of criticism about universities being disconnected from PK-12 schools, and a debate that what’s done in the university is too theoretical and then when teacher candidates get to the schools, they have to (re-)learn everything. So, there’s been many calls to organizations saying, ‘We need to redesign teacher preparation. We need to think about it differently.’
But, within those calls, they don’t necessarily tell you how to do that. We can’t continue to tell people to do something if they don’t know what that looks like. So, this book is a way for practitioners in teacher education to think about how we could redesign our programs and what we could do differently. The book offers practical advice that’s grounded in research, but also in our own experiences working in designing our own preparation programs for the past 15 years.
Q: What are some of the big ideas and takeaways that readers will gain from the book?
One of the biggest ideas is that one of the major issues in education today relates to inequities for students within our education system — inequities for students of color, students who speak other languages, sexual orientation, social and economic status and so on. There are major inequities for kids, and we keep talking about them, but we haven’t figured out how to solve all that yet.
One of the major connections in the book is that the work of teacher education needs to be grounded in creating more equitable schools. In order to do that, we need to help teacher candidates develop an equity lens so that they can teach in a more equitable manner and be able to identify inequities within the classroom, but also in educational systems and practices.
Another big piece is that teacher preparation programs need to be designed in collaboration with schools. We need to work in partnership with schools to redesign these programs. This is something that doesn’t just happen in the university, but we need to engage in high-quality discussions and dialogues together to plan this out. That is the key.
We can’t just say, “Okay, we’re going to prepare them (teacher candidates) at the university and then we’re going to send them to the schools, they’re going to work alongside a mentor teacher and that’s going to be separate.” We really need to have that coherence between what’s going on in the universities and what’s going on in the schools, and the only way to do that is to have the voices of schools represented in the conversations around designing teacher preparation programs.
Our book answers questions like, “how do you have conversations with school partners?” “How do you work together to develop a vision for a program collaboratively?” “How do you help select the teachers who are going to work with pre-service teachers?” It also talks about the structure of a teacher preparation program, whether students should be in cohorts or not and then a lot about what the curriculum needs to look like. That’s a very big piece because it’s a change. We say we’re doing this in collaboration with schools, so we need to talk to schools about what the curriculum of teacher preparation needs to look like. So, when we’re thinking about teaching science or social studies, we’re working together with them to find out what their real needs are in their classrooms and so that we can make sure our teachers are prepared for that.
The other parts of the book are: How do you develop teacher educators who can work in those spaces—teacher educators in the university—but also teacher educators in the schools? Because you could be a great teacher of kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you may know how to coach another adult.
Another big point is the importance of clinical practice and what that means. There needs to be extensive opportunities for teacher candidates to have lots of time to work in schools. And that time shouldn’t happen at the end of the program, but it should happen throughout.
Q: Why is it important for teacher preparation to be "equity-centered"?
I think in the past, equity and social justice was a discussion point in teacher preparation, but it’s been often relegated to a course. Like, “Okay, you’re going to take a diversity course,” or “Here is an equity assignment.”
When teachers learn about equity, it takes time. Part of this is because there’s a lot of internal, critical self-reflection that has to occur for the teacher themselves before they even think about teaching the student. You have to look at your own identity and think about your own bias and privileges, which takes a long time. So, if we just have a smattering of equity here and there, we really won’t have an opportunity for change to occur. For equity learning to happen there has to be this critical self-reflection and this lens development and then teachers need to figure out, “okay, how is inequity operating in schools now? How can I support greater equity for kids in my classroom?” So, the process of it is super complex.
We often think of the core in teacher preparation being pre-service teachers, but really the core is about K-12 student learning. So, if we want to think about this, that must be the center of what we do.
How has today's educational landscape prompted changes to teacher preparation? Can you provide any examples of how teacher preparation has had to adapt to meet the needs of today's students?
So, I think part of that is that we really prepare teacher candidates by developing an equity lens. Even at USF, we’ve really re-thought our whole curriculum connected to our clinical experiences and we have students engaging in readings, experiences and activities that really focus on helping them develop a lens of anti-racism. It’s prompted us to change our curriculum.
Additionally, teachers are still facing challenges due to high stakes accountability. So, there’s a lot of pressure on teachers. We need to help teacher candidates figure out how to negotiate that pressure and mandates they will eventually face within the classroom. That is why we move towards more clinical experiences; pre-service teachers need more time in the field.
Q: What's a misconception about clinically based teacher preparation that people may not realize or understand?
I think the one misconception is that adding more clinical experiences will solve the problems in teacher preparation, and that really isn’t it. We do need more clinical experiences but need to make sure they are purposeful, scaffolded, and include high quality supervision.
Our book talks about the need to be very intentional in the content and design of what those clinical experiences. A big concept in the book is about coherence, so there’s this idea that in a teacher preparation program, there needs to be these themes that go across and they build upon each other. Also, not just coherence across the program, but also coherence is what we’re doing in the university and what they’re seeing in the schools.
Q: In what ways do you hope your book will benefit or support the work of other teacher educators?
One of the things we featured in the book is spotlights from practice. They’re short vignettes related to the content of the chapter. We used these to share spotlights from practice to give readers an idea of what these ideas could look like in an actual school.
The book is really a vision. So, it’s not like we want you to take this book and simply replicate what we have discussed. Instead, the book provides a vision, to get readers thinking about, how this might work in their context and how they might have to adapt it or rethink it. There’s a lot of guiding questions presented throughout the book, so in the beginning of each chapter we ask readers to reflect on their current program.
I could see individuals from a teacher preparation program sitting down and collaboratively reading this book. Through the exercises they engage in, it could help them really think about their program, think about what it currently looks like and how they would want to change it. Our book is based on research, and I think some people don’t understand that there’s a whole research base around teacher preparation program design.
Some people get thrown into teacher education or teacher preparation and they may be strong in their content area, but they haven’t studied the research around how to design programs. So, I think this is great for them too because the book could help compliment their content expertise.
“(Re)Designing Programs: A Vision for Equity-Centered, Clinically Based Teacher Preparation” is available through Information Age Publishing and the USF Libraries website.