4.2 The Unit’s philosophy, purposes and outcomes
Our teacher education vision also reflects our philosophical commitments. The word Journey suggests that becoming a teacher is something that occurs over time. Moreover, candidates for teacher certification have both a point of origin and a destination. There is a planned sequence of courses and checkpoints along the way that must be met, as well as some preestablished maps and instructions to follow. Millikin’s School of Education is committed to providing candidates specific directions and guidance as they commence their professional journey. Candidates learn from the “scaffolding” (Vygotsky, 1978) built into our TE programs and come to internalize the journey and the destination as they do. Scaffolding and self-direction are both necessary if candidates are to identify themselves as professional educators. The experiences that comprise each of our TE programs require that candidates accommodate intellectually, socially and morally as they journey toward professional excellence. They build their own expertise as they “reflect in practice” (Schön, 1989) under the guidance of clinical faculty. We agree with Harter (1998) that any process resulting in a unified sense of self-identity leads to confidence and success. As candidates discover for themselves the value of dispositions embedded in Millikin Teaching Standards, they commit themselves to lifelong professional journeys as “teacher-learners.”
The metaphor of professional growth as a journey is attractive to us because educators speak repeatedly of development on their way to making excellent professional contributions.
Steffy, Wolfe, Pasch, and Enz (2000) describe what they call “the life cycle of the career teacher.” The life cycle includes the following developmental phases through which teachers travel in the course of their professional lives:
- Novice: Preservice teachers who are acquiring the skills, attitudes and knowledge necessary for teaching through coursework and field experiences.
- Apprentice: Beginning teachers who have responsibility for planning, presenting and assessing instruction. Idealistic and sometimes naïve, they may become overwhelmed by professional demands.
- Professional: More experienced teachers who are developing self-confidence; have acquired solid skills in teaching and frequently turn to others for new ideas for continued professional growth.
- Expert: Achieving teachers who often reach very high standards of excellence, demonstrate leadership, mentor other teachers, reflect on their practice and continue to grow and change.
- Distinguished: Truly gifted teachers who significantly impact education-related decisions at the local, state, and national levels through grant work, writing, mentoring, or becoming politically involved.
- Emeritus: Retired teachers who remain involved in education in a variety of roles.
Steffy & Wolfe’s (1997) continuum illustrates the journey that well-educated novice teachers travel. They characterize the development of teachers as “directional and impelled by the need to improve” (Steffy, et al, 2000, p.9). Teachers progress through the different phases only when they are actively involved in a cycle of reflection, renewal and growth. In any phase, teachers can become disengaged from the process and intellectually withdraw from teaching, even though they still continue to be employed as teachers. Continued progress on the journey involves habits of learning as well as support from the schools and communities in which the teachers work. Steffy & Wolfe liken the phases of growth in teaching to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development (1968) in that one set of skills grows from the other gradually over time. Katz (1995) also identified stages of development in early childhood teachers that define specific needs for training from members of communities. For example, Katz indicates that first year teachers are concerned with survival in the face of being responsible for a whole group of young children and have a need for support and encouragement. By the end of the second year, Katz found that teachers began to focus more specifically on individual student concerns, having grown more capable of handling the responsibility of the group. Concerns have been raised in recent years about the trend for 30% of novice teachers to leave the profession before progressing on to more advanced stages (Halford, 2006). Halford emphasizes the need to see new teachers as learners, supporting our belief that novice teachers will be continuing on their journey toward teaching and learning.
In our pre-service training programs, we work primarily with novice teachers. Part of launching candidates on their professional journey means modeling for them and expecting of them a view of teaching as a career-long process of development that requires reflection, continued learning, and commitment to excellence. Throughout their program, they study others who share the vision of teaching as a continuing journey of learning. Slavin (2002) emphasizes the need for teachers to become intentional teachers, purposeful and focused on outcomes. Goodlad (1990; 1999) describes teachers who depend on continued patterns of renewal throughout life in order to maintain the high level of consciousness needed to teach. Using the metaphor of travel, Danielson (1996, p. 6) asserts that, “Given the complexity of teaching, a map of the territory is invaluable to excellence. If a map is used well and shared by mentors, it can help make the experience of becoming an accomplished professional a rewarding one.” We see Millikin faculty and clinical faculty as supporting the journey of our preservice novice teachers by sharing with them our maps of the territory.
Our vision speaks of a Journey “toward excellence.” We find the ideas of Edward Deming (Walton, 1988) helpful in thinking about this phrase. Deming recognized the power that comes from seeing complex processes – like teaching and learning – as always subject to improvement through response to systematic feedback. Millikin School of Education aspires to prepare candidates who value excellence in both teaching and learning, who know its hallmarks and possess dispositions and strategies that help them express professional excellence. By creating checkpoints that identify minimal performance for admission to teacher education, by requiring reflective pre-professional and professional portfolios, and by designing rubrics that provide candidates with qualitative assessments of their performances, Millikin’s students communicate to candidates that they are expected to go beyond the minimal standards and to be consistently reflective in their efforts. Teacher education candidates develop skills in assessing their own progress toward excellence and become motivated to seek excellence throughout their professional lives.
Excellence in teaching and learning implies that the two processes are not separate. Indeed, for educators, learning and teaching must be interconnected. Those who have experienced excellence in learning have the infrastructure to become excellent teachers. Excellent teachers must themselves be traveling along their own learning frontiers as well as teaching their students to move along theirs. We endorse Frank Smith’s classic view of learning (1998) that recognizes learning as “continual, effortless, inconspicuous, boundless, unpremeditated, and based on self-image.” Teacher education candidates with this view of learning are actively and passionately involved in the process of learning. Having experienced the joy and power of learning themselves, they can help their students discover similar passions for learning. As discussed at greater length below, one dimension of teachers’ ongoing learning is about learning itself. In this case, they learn by reflecting on their teaching experience, using the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of their instruction as a means of modifying their understanding of the learning process.
The next section presents the knowledge base that underlies the four parts of the teacher education unit’s mission that also serve as goals to accomplishing the mission.
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