l Capital University Journal
for keeping the head of the class
story by Laurie Hall
photo by Sherry Mark
drop out of school every yeardropouts with a college
degree and a teaching credential. As the state of California struggles
to add 30,000 additional teachers a year for the next 10 years, two veteran
educators share their thoughts on what causes first-time teachers to bail
out of teaching and what teacher preparation programs can do to encourage
them to stay.
Isolation, unrealistic expectations and mountains of paperwork are among
the reasons cited by exiting teachers in national surveys. Virginia Dixon,
associate dean for the Sac State College of Education, notes that California
presents additional challenges for teachers including a rigorous statewide
accountability system and the unique needs of the states diverse
Efforts to address these situations need to begin before teachers make
their first solo forays into the classroom, Dixon says. When teachers
go out into the reality of the schools, they need to feel prepared to
deal with the needs of 21st century children.
The demands in public school are challenging in terms of
the need to have accountability, in terms of the intensity of the focus
on testing. Many first-time teachers came into teaching to create learning
opportunities, but find they must work around the testing demands,
While some are able to adapt, others become frustrated that their
vision of engaging students isnt aligned with the testing requirements.
They see a multitude of needs. And they cant teach exclusively the
subject matter they were trained in, particularly those who come into
the teaching profession after working in another career.
Teacher preparation programs need to help future teachers discover how
to capture their students attention, she adds. New teachers
may overlook the key, which is how to convey concepts to people who are
under the age of 18.
You hear new teachers say, I thought Id be teaching
eighth grade math when theyre really teaching a group of rambunctious
eighth-graders and on top of that
theyre trying to teach those eighth-graders math. They need to be
able to handle the individual kids first before they can teach math.
First-time teachers may have unrealistic expectations of their students
skill level. Some children, such as those for whom English is a second
language, have the same aptitude as other children but are challenged
to keep up with the content while acquiring a new language.
If a new teacher expects to only work with a certain kind of child, and
they dont end up teaching that population, it could cause them to
rethink the decision to become a teacher, says Nadeen Ruiz, coordinator
of the Education Student Services Center, which oversees Sac States
teacher credential program.
There can be a clash between expectations and realities, she
says. We really try in teacher preparation to talk about diversitylinguistic,
cultural, socioeconomic and unique learning needs. In California, it is
our responsibility to get that message out.
One way Sac State is trying to expose future teachers to what they will
face in the classroom is through professional development schools the
University operates with area school districts. The partnership brings
together University professors, teachers-in-training and the schools
teaching faculty. Among the benefits is the chance for teacher preparation
students to develop relationships with faculty in the schools.
Many development schools are in urban districts or in what might be considered
challenging schools. We want them to have challenges
but also have the background, training and support network beginning teachers
need, Dixon says.
That support for beginning teachers may prevent the sense of isolation
that prompts some to leave the profession. Dixon cites an Oregon study
that showed teachers who participated in weekly group meetings were less
likely to quit.
Teachers need to create a comfort level to be productive and to
take care of themselves if they start to feel stress, Dixon says.
We need to help them find ways to balance what theyre called
upon to do with perceptions of what they should be doing. We dont
want to lose good people.
At Sac State, efforts to build support systems start early. Teacher preparation
candidates go through as a cohortgroups of 25 to 34
candidates who take their courses together and are clustered at a single
school for their classroom training. Moving through as a group allows
them to develop a support network, Dixon says. Its a
way they can keep up with each other and provide reality checks.
Ruiz adds, It begins to build a community of practice about the
occupation and allows them to say, We belong to a profession with
expertise and responsibility. If a person feels isolated when teaching,
what will hold them there?
One area where that can be a boon is dealing with the ever-looming prospect
of testing, Ruiz says. If all the direction is coming down from
above, its easy to get frustrated.
At some schools, she notes, teachers come together by grade to look at
the content and standards. Rather than being passive, they say,
Lets take ownership, lets set priorities. How can we
take this into the classroom then go beyond the standard to have rich,
engaging learning? Ruiz says.
Several other steps have been implemented to ensure teachers are as prepared
as possible before and after they go into the classroom. A teacher internship
program with Sacramento Unified School District places students who have
completed their bachelors degree and other test requirements as
the teacher for a class, under the supervision of faculty. Teacher
intern programs have their own retention problems but this two-year internship
has a 92 percent return rate, Dixon says.
The College works with school district Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment
programs to continue professional development. Sac State also gets feedback
from a new California State University system survey of recent teacher
education graduates and their principals, assessing the teachers
preparedness level. Dixon says the survey results give them invaluable
information for planning and improving the teacher education program.