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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

November 1, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Not pre-med, how about pre-ed?

Jonathan Knapp

Jonathan Knapp (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Amid the furor over public school reform and education standards in this country, there is one area on which nearly everyone appears to agree: Teachers should be valued as professionals and trained that way, too.

Several well-informed sources say would-be teachers should be screened into highly-selective schools (a la medical students), and serve residencies similar to those of young doctors — sort of an in-service training model.

Seattle, it turns out, is way ahead of the curve. The district is in its first year of exactly such a program — the Seattle Teacher Residency — with 25 teachers-in-training employed at 5 elementary schools, where 25 senior educators act as their mentors.

Most unusual of all: The program has full buy-in from the teachers union, according to president Jonathan Knapp.

“To my knowledge, we’re the only place in the country where the union’s involved at all,” Knapp said. “That’s important because we  want to be at the forefront of defining what our profession is. We do not believe it’s good for people to be entering this profession with little or no training. It’s an art as much as a science to be a good teacher. You need to be in a classroom dealing with real kids and real situations every day.”

Meanwhile, a couple of researchers at the UW report that — contrary to conventional wisdom—many of today’s young teachers actually come from academia’s upper tiers, with above-average SAT scores and degrees from the country’s top schools.

In other words, folks everywhere are paying new attention to the quality of new teaching recruits.

Catherine Michna, a professor at Tulane University and former Teach for America recruit, feels so strongly about this that she no longer writes recommendations for students seeking to join the organization best-known for taking idealistic college grads and placing them in high-needs public schools with minimal on-the-ground training.

Every year, Teach for America “installs thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds…into disadvantaged public schools,” Michna wrote recently in Slate. “They are given a class of their own after only five to six weeks of training and a scant number of hours co-teaching summer school ….”

No doubt, many will be watching Seattle’s progress: Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, has been pushing for exactly this kind of model, pointing out that there’s already federal money that could be used to fund it: $2.5 billion set aside in the education budget for “Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals,” though most of those dollars never go toward training.

“Teaching — like many other professions — is far too complex to rely on the undergraduate years alone to produce a teacher who can do well walking into a classroom with only a bachelor’s degree and a license to teach,” Thorpe says. “We need a full-blown, universal residency model.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Teacher Residency


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