I am a proud Aggie and Lobo! I graduated from New Mexico State University in 1991, the same university my paternal grandparents graduated from as teachers in the 1920s. After I got my BA in education, I earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction from the University of New Mexico. Still, I struggled as a new teacher, starting out with so little time in the field.
There were things I wished I knew how to do better, such as valuing the cultural context of English language learners and building better relationships with students and families, not to mention fixing a broken copier, managing my hydration intake and redirecting teachers’ gossip in the lounge. My experience is far from unique; we must improve how we prepare young professionals for the breadth and depth of the commitment that is teaching.
The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) is currently debating a proposed rule on teacher preparation that would grade state universities on their Education Preparation Programs (EPP). “The purpose of the proposed rulemaking is to improve and strengthen the preparation of day-one ready New Mexico educators by developing standard and transparent processes for the evaluation, review and approval of educator preparation programs (EPPs) in the state.” Universities would be subject to entry and exit requirements, field experience, observations, standards and data submitted to PED. PED’s feedback would be in the form of a scorecard and site visit, which would help create accountability for both parties and lead to better outcomes for students. I believe potential teachers in our state would benefit if New Mexico’s preparation programs were to be graded.
One big benefit is transparency. Having attended two universities in New Mexico, I would have liked the information that NMPED is offering with its EPP grading system beforehand. The ability to compare university program grades would undoubtedly have been a factor as I decided in which schools to enroll. Students should be able to invest in the institution that has the most reputable education program. As a parent of two high school-age boys, I researched school grades to ensure I was making smart choices for my children. It’s the least we can do to help university students who are making lifelong decisions and committing to years of debt.
Another benefit is quality. Grades could help strengthen the education programs we already have in place and make New Mexico’s universities more competitive nationwide. While there is existing oversight – teacher preparation programs are reviewed by national accrediting bodies like the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – more is clearly needed. New Mexico has the second-highest rate of teacher turnover in the nation. Some of the turnover I’ve witnessed in my career is directly related to teachers being unprepared and overwhelmed. The NMPED university grades could be the catalyst to move our state forward. Through accountability we would gain credibility.
Before coming to teach in my home state, I taught overseas for 15 years at private international schools in China, Syria, and Vietnam, and have had the opportunity to compare my pedagogy to that of other teachers from the United States and around the world. There are many noticeable differences including technology advancement, paperless classrooms, parental involvement and much more overall respect for the profession. As a veteran teacher, my young colleagues coming from other states seemed much more prepared than I was when I started, and they only had a couple of years’ experience. We need universities to be accountable for preparing teachers in order to retain and recruit the finest educators for our students. Let’s make sure that new teachers in our state are truly ready for Day One.
Jill Hutchinson-Bass teaches fifth-grade English language arts and social studies at Carlos Gilbert Elementary in Santa Fe Public Schools. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.