Less than half the teachers in a national survey reported feeling well prepared to meet the challenges they face. This survey, conducted through the National Center for Educational Statistics in the spring of 1998, is analyzed in the first issue of Education Statistics Quarterly.
Teachers felt least prepared to teach culturally diverse students or those with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Thirty-six percent felt well prepared to implement state or district curriculum and performance standards, and 41 percent to implement new teaching methods. In addition, only about one-quarter of all teachers felt confident of their ability to use performance assessment techniques.
This report and the commentary it generated point out two central issues for teacher training. The first is teacher preparation. Only a small percentage of teachers are teaching in fields in which they have no training, although the percentage is higher in middle school. These statistics, however, are based on teachers’ having a major or minor in a field related to the one they teach. When the data is analyzed more closely, it becomes clear that many more teachers are underprepared for the courses they are assigned to teach. For example, if a teacher teaches physical science (earth science, chemistry or physics) and has a minor in any one of these fields or even a minor in a non-physical science such as biology, this teacher is counted as teaching in his field.
Many science teachers do not have expertise in field
Only 59 percent of public school students in physical science classes are taught by someone with even a minor in a physical science. When the data is analyzed to determine what percentage of teachers are teaching subjects in which they have a major, the numbers are much smaller.
Hiring choices appear to be influenced by factors unrelated to teacher qualifications. Fully qualified, experienced teachers cost more. Furthermore, professional searches are so costly and time-consuming that replacing a teacher midyear with a readily available substitute may be expedient. Taking a less qualified teacher who can also coach a varsity sport may seem like a good compromise.
A second important issue in teacher training is continuing education. Research has shown that professional development is unlikely to produce long-lasting results on teachers’ competence or students’ achievement unless it is carefully designed to provide continuity between what teachers learn and what goes on in their schools and classrooms.
Formal mentoring relationships improve teaching
The teachers in this survey reported that the most effective ways to improve their teaching were formal mentoring relationships in which they met with their mentors at least once a week; inservice training that lasted more than eight hours; and common weekly planning time for team teachers.
This report contained some good news. New teachers are more likely to have majored in the field they teach than more senior teachers. Teachers say that school administrators are more supportive of their work than in the past, and that their schools have clearer goals and priorities.
“Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers” (and commentaries) Education Statistics Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 1999, pp. 7-18.
Published in ERN October 1999 Volume 12 Number 7