A Strong Occidental Teacher Education Program
Occidental should maintain a clinical focus to develop the best practitioners. Theory is used as a tool to deepen understanding of concrete practices. Praxis is key.
Courses should develop a deep understanding of a clear model of explicit direct instruction that is based on effective teacher and brain research, and teach specific, research-based instructional strategies so that all candidates have solid instructional delivery strategies.
The department should establish a teacher education director to provide cohesion, direction, and accountability for the quality of the program, and alignment of course work to a clearly defined model and vision of Oxy’s teacher education program. The director must have proven expertise in classroom instruction, as well as educational leadership skills at a school or district level.
The faculty should develop a culture of collaboration in the department under the guidance and lead of the director. This would be a model of what students are expected to do as education professionals. For example, all professors and instructors would meet regularly to view lessons to practice observation and feedback, and develop consistency of expectations about elements of expert teaching; to monitor progress of students, and discuss and address successes and challenges of the program.
The college should restructure the education department to align with its clinical focus of developing excellent teachers. For example, some current courses should be eliminated or perhaps integrated into a different department. Professors must maintain some on-going elementary or secondary classroom work, either through research, teaching, or coaching. Students could minor in education by completing some of the credential course work without committing to student teaching.
In conjunction with the development of laboratory or partner schools, Occidental should include more part-time instructors, who have demonstrated excellence in classroom instruction, to teach courses and supervise student teachers. They would be expected to work under the guidance of the director and support Oxy’s clearly defined model of teacher education and identified content to ensure cohesion in the program. In addition, these partnerships would allow the school to connect to the “best” in the field. Actively seek out partnerships with nearby districts which can link effective schools that have diverse populations, as a training site for student teachers. Work on commitments to regularly place student teachers with excellent teachers (i.e. Oxy graduates, mentor teachers, award-winning teachers, or teachers highly recommended by principal or district).
It is important that the college provide necessary support to the faculty. An administrator to deal with the paperwork required by the state credentialing board would ensure that the necessary detail work is completed accurately and in a timely fashion. Such an administrator could also be used to find and apply for grants to help support the program. It should be recognized that faculty members have unique responsibilities to their students that are not required of other departments. As Linda Darling-Hammond states, “If teaching is a low-status occupation in the United States, teacher education is an even lower-status enterprise within most universities…The incentive systems of universities favor research and in-ward-looking faculty service over the intensive and time-consuming work with prospective teachers and schools demanded by professional training.” (Powerful Teacher Education p. 277)
The department must connect to Occidental’s undergraduate program. Students will have the benefit of a strong liberal arts program to develop breadth of knowledge in multiple disciplines. This could more firmly embed the education program as part of Occidental’s larger academic community. Again, Barnard offers a good example of how this can be done effectively. “Experiences required by the expanded New York State standards can be woven into existing courses. For example, faculty of various departments from economics and philosophy to psychology and urban studies have been helpful. Colleagues have been keen to include issues of public education and learning as topics on their syllabi from fiscal equity to social understanding to concerns for a “good and just society.” Getting to know a community becomes an urban studies assignment, visiting a community religious center becomes a paper’s focus, creating a garden in a vacant lot becomes an environmental project, tutoring becomes a study of motivation for psychology and helping with senior citizens serves as oral history lessons. By integrating education into the fabric of other departmental courses, support and relationships are established to enhance the students’ depth of learning and experiences in preparation for student teaching.” (Sacks, p. 179)
As emphasized previously, the role of digital learning is critical. A linchpin of the credential program should be a focus on instructional technology. Building on the work done at Occidental currently in the Center for Digital Learning and Research and the Information Resources, a truly unique program could be developed that would make Occidental a leader in 21st century K-12 education and enable its graduates to be agents of change and leadership in tomorrow’s schools.