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Editorial: It’s time to take teacher colleges back to school

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Deans of colleges of education from across New Mexico and the nation are decrying a new study that rates their institutions as poor when it comes to adequately preparing teachers for the classroom.

That’s to be expected. After all, colleges of education have a definite interest in inflating that grade.

More important is what do teachers think – the people who are expected to take over a classroom on Day 1 and shape and mold the minds of 30 or more students in less than eight months? At least one New Mexico teacher is brave enough to speak up and agree with the National Center for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report. Their study, released last week, was based mainly on analysis of course syllabi and textbooks and gave New Mexico’s six colleges of education zero to two stars on a four-star scale. Takes some shine off new diplomas, doesn’t it?

In response, New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas (zero stars) says judging its college of education takes a visit to see challenges firsthand. New Mexico State University (zero stars on three of four programs; one star on the other) is “dismayed by this group’s findings and uncomfortable with its research methodology.” Western New Mexico University (zero stars) says the findings “do not paint a full picture.”

Viola Florez, interim dean of the college of education at the University of New Mexico (two stars on elementary and graduate special ed; zero on secondary), says the study is “missing some major components” because “they did not interview any students or teachers, or do any classroom observations.”

So let’s hear from a teacher.

Stephanie Hofacket explains in an op-ed in today’s Journal that she has “been teaching in the Las Cruces public school district for the last nine years.” She agrees with the study findings, saying she was woefully underprepared for the challenges she has faced.

“My teacher prep program, though with good intent, did not serve my needs or provide me with the necessary knowledge to navigate a classroom effectively,” she says. “Much of my coursework did not align with what I would later encounter in the classroom. So many of the challenges I faced, in content knowledge and behavior management, I figured out on my own, not by drawing on skills and tactics I learned during my training.”

And this from an educator who rose to be named a middle school “teacher of the week” in 2011.

Hofacket argues education colleges need to align their curriculums with the districts that will be hiring their graduates if the system is going to adequately prepare anyone, that middle schools can no longer be relegated to hiring teachers trained for elementary or high school coursework, that student teaching should be “longer and more immersive,” that more than “superficial strategies for teaching ELL and ESL learners” are needed, along with a focus on classroom management and instructional strategies. And she says “standards in the teacher prep programs should be higher and licensing tests should be more rigorous.”

These are not the words of a union-busting, teacher-critic activist. They come from a teacher who had to learn too much on the job, who says “all teachers want to do a good job, but our nation needs to realize how valued teachers are and how much more valuable they could be with the proper training.”

And this is not the first study to question if New Mexico is adequately preparing its teachers. A Legislative Finance Committee report in December found not only that our colleges aren’t doing enough to prepare teachers for the classroom, but that the inadequate training is affecting student performance. That study in great part prompted UNM – the high-scorer in the National Center for Teacher Quality study, remember – to embark on a revamp of its college of education. That process is just now underway.

The National Center for Teacher Quality report, and more importantly the words of front-line teaching college graduates-turned teachers like Stephanie Hofacket, should add urgency as well as statewide breadth to that effort.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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