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Teacher training: what's the best way?

Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, while others are advocates of so-called alternative models, which can speed up entry into the profession.

'I've gotten so much hands-on experience.' – Lana Marchand, a participant in the Academy of Urban School Leadership program

Stephen J. Carrera/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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Johanna Klinsky remembers her teacher training ruefully.

She loved the theory she learned, but her only classroom experience was 10 weeks of student teaching, which did nothing to prepare her for the chaos she would encounter as a teacher in an inner-city Chicago school.

"It was pure hell," she remembers. "I was wildly unprepared." In the end, though, she became part of the 55 percent or so of teachers who stick with the profession beyond five years. "But I guarantee you those kids didn't learn a thing," Ms. Klinsky says.

These days, she works as a coach in a Chicago teacher-preparation program far different from the one she went through: Aspiring teachers are paired with mentor teachers for a full year in urban classrooms before becoming teachers themselves. It's one model gaining attention right now as educators and policymakers debate how best to train teachers – particularly for the high-needs urban classrooms that need good teachers the most and are often saddled with those who are least-prepared.

There's now wide agreement that good teaching is the most crucial factor in raising student achievement. But when it comes to how to train those teachers – and how to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running and are likely to stick around – there's a deep ideological divide. Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, which produce 4 out of 5 teachers in the United States. Others are strong advocates of so-called alternative models designed to streamline entry into teaching for exceptionally talented students or mid-career professionals.


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