Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Community Schools: A Perfect Setting for Preparing Future Teachers


JoAnne Ferrara is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Advising at Manhattanville College and the co-author of Whole Child, Whole School: Applying Theory to Practice in a Community School



Increasingly teacher education programs have come under public scrutiny for not responding to the needs of beginning teachers or adequately preparing them for the challenges that they will face upon entering their first classroom. These challenges are especially intensified for those new teachers who are employed in high- needs districts serving children experiencing multiple academic difficulties or living in poverty. Included in the criticism is the belief that new teachers lack the knowledge, skills and attitudes to work effectively with a diverse group of students.  Also cited in the criticism leveled at education schools is a shortage of appropriate clinical practice sites in exemplary schools serving poor children. Without settings for preservice teachers to observe strategies proven effective for high-needs students, they are often unaware of the many factors impeding student success and, as a result have little knowledge of school-wide strategies that work. 

Teachers’ impact on student learning has been well documented in the research on teacher effectiveness and teacher preparation (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, Bransford,  Berliner, et al, 2005).  Research has shown that competent, well-prepared teachers are the key to student success, especially for those students who are poor and considered under-served (Hammerness,  Darling-Hammond, Bransford,  Berliner, et al 2005, Delprit, 2006).  In high poverty schools where retention and teacher competence are often compromised teacher quality is critical.  Novice teachers’ success in challenging settings frequently depend upon many factors including school-wide supports available to them, strong mentoring relationships, the quality of their preparation program, and  the richness of  clinical fieldwork.  Taken as a whole these factors contribute to the success or failure of new teachers during the first 3-5 years of employment. Given the abundant research on teacher quality and its impact on student learning it makes sense to prepare teachers in schools which address student needs in an integrative, comprehensive way, and in turn provide teachers with a vision of schooling founded on sound educational practices. 

Community schools are perfect settings for helping beginning teachers understand the complex interconnections between life at home, life at school, and within the community. In community schools, preservice teachers come to realize that student learning is a result what happens inside and outside of the classroom. Equally as important as understanding issues related to poverty, teachers must be able to apply effective approaches to every day classroom interactions (Ferrara & Santiago, 2011).

During the preservice years when teachers are developing their pedagogical knowledge and creating their professional identities, first-hand experience in schools with exemplary practices is paramount. If we expect teachers to enter the profession with a repertoire of skills and the knowledge to work effectively with high needs students we must create schools with organizational structures which allow them to do what they do best-teach.  If we truly believe teachers are the key to student success then we must guarantee early exposure to a theoretical framework based on educating the whole child with practical applications within the context of a community school. 

Teachers fortunate enough to be trained in the supportive setting of a community school have a profound understanding of the relationship between poverty and learning as well as a deep commitment to the value of working with partners to address student needs.  Teacher preparation in community schools highlights the need to give those entering the profession not only a set of pedagogical skills, but a network of comprehensive services for students. Simply stated, community schools allow educators to focus their efforts on the craft of teaching because children are ready to learn.

References
Delpit, L., (2006). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York : The New Press.
Ferrara, J. & Santiago, E. (2011).   Helping preservice teachers support the needs of the “whole child” in a PDS. In I. Guadarrama, J. Ramsey, & J. Nath (Eds.), Investigating university-school partnerships, Professional Development Schools Research, Volume 4.  (pp. 373-378). Charlotte, NC : Information Age.  
Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J., Berliner, D., et al (2005). How teachers learn and develop.  In L. Darling-Hammond and J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing Teachers For a Changing World (pp.358-389). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

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