Source: The New Educator
This paper intends to demonstrate how within the current contentious environment for teacher education in the U.S., two small teacher preparation programs, the Jewish Teacher Education Program (JTEP) of Massachusetts (MA) and California (CA), conducted a voluntary coordinated long-term self-evaluation study, that partially responded to external accountability pressures by the Federal administration, state agencies and various private and non-governmental organizations. In particular, we focus on findings about graduates’ preparation experiences and sense of preparedness for teaching, as well as how they perceived their faculty strengths and weaknesses and programs’ effectiveness. Such an in-depth examination of graduates’ perspectives can serve not only for internal self-study purposes, but also as an example to other preparation programs looking to comply with external accountability requirements, while preserving an independent voice in the process and developing meaningful tools for self-assessment and improvement.
This study examines two sister programs; the Jewish Teacher Education Program (JTEP) of Massachusetts (MA) and California (CA). The programs were established in 2002 as a response to three decades of expansion in liberal Jewish day schools that fostered a demand for teachers who are well prepared pedagogically to teach general subjects for the elementary grades within the context of a liberal Jewish day school. JTEP has prepared more than 300 teachers who are teaching across the U.S. in 18 states and more than 46 schools (both Jewish and public). To date, JTEP is an approved alternate route to teacher certification by the state of MA and a regular teacher preparation program in the state of CA, preparing teachers to teach core subjects in the elementary curriculum, both general (mainly reading/language arts and math) and Jewish (holidays, prayer, Bible and Israel) and Bible in the secondary grades. It combines professional studies with a year-long mentored internship in a local day school leading to a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree and a state teaching license.
Data and methods
This study was motivated by the author’s role and responsibilities as a teacher educator researcher and the collaboration the author established with JTEP faculty and leaders. The study reflects a commitment by JTEP faculty to pursue an extensive long-term collaborative self-study initiative to understand how they are perceived by student-teachers and how their teaching and preparation are experienced by student-teachers. This pursuit is consistent with what Vanassche and Kelchtermans (2015) call the second level of self-study analysis which involves an inquiry at the meso-level of the program and its curriculum.
As part of this collaboration, the author developed a mixed method research that draws on two types of data – longitudinal surveys administered annually for six consecutive years and filled by graduates from the two sister programs, and semistructured interviews with JTEP faculty leaders. This combined dataset is intended to offer critical feedback and paint a more accurate and nuanced picture (based on multiple sources) about graduates’ experiences and sense of preparedness to teach and implement key professional standards promoted by the two sister programs.
Findings and discussion
The findings from this inquiry align well with previous research on effective teacher education and reinforce the need for all teacher education programs to (a) include a robust clinical component of mentored internship aligned with professional coursework (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012), (b) articulate and model a strong vision of good teaching (Darling-Hammond et al., 2000; McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanagh, 2013), and (c) prepare teachers to teach the array of general and/or Jewish subjects for which they are responsible. The latter has been critical for years in public schools, but is becoming important also in day schools given the increasing value of academic excellence (Sharon Feiman-Nemser et al., 2014).
The author hopes that all teacher educators who read this research (including those teaching in large programs that prepare public school teachers) will feel an urge to ask similar questions or variations of these questions as part of a self-study inquiry aimed at program improvement. Adopting the survey tool and follow-up interviews may serve as an opportunity to clarify the programs’ vision of good teaching to faculty and students. For example, programs should examine the extent to which their faculty are seen as caring and knowledgeable, and students understand the value placed on reflective practice. It is also an invitation for all teacher educators to seriously consider common critique about their work, such as whether their graduates feel satisfied and prepared to plan lessons, manage classrooms, and generally engage with the work of teaching.
In conclusion, by taking ownership over the evaluation process and tracking its graduates over time, JTEP offers a self-study research model that other teacher preparation programs can embrace to collect and analyze systematic and reliable information about the preparation experiences of their teachers.
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