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Teacher preparation in NC: An opportunity to take the long view

Over the past five years, a consistent narrative has emerged regarding falling enrollment in teacher preparation programs. My own college at UNC Charlotte has seen fewer students seeking degrees through our licensure programs since 2013 when I arrived to take on the deanship.

As a dean of a College of Education, enrollment is my responsibility. We work tirelessly on recruitment and we have found creative approaches to bring in more students. More importantly, though, it is my job to ensure that we are providing high quality preparation so that our graduates are ready to teach on day one of their careers.

Like many programs, we now offer tracks where prospective teachers can gain licensure in just a year. This is an important option, but such approaches are only sustainable if the training is high quality. I get nervous when I hear about programs that prepare elementary teachers without dedicated coursework in early reading and the diagnosis of reading problems. I get nervous when I hear about programs that offer generic courses in instructional methods because I doubt those teacher candidates ever learn how to identify and address mathematical misconceptions when children are solving problems. I worry about programs that don’t address how to teach science in ways the help kids love science, or those that assume teacher candidates with a background in chemistry magically know how to teach it effectively.

I understand the stress on districts that need to fill vacancies. But I believe the decline in interest in careers in teaching is temporary. Our state and nation will always need teachers, and this need will soon again be reflected in the public policy and perception toward this critical profession. But in the meantime, what should we do?

At UNC Charlotte, we are reflecting on our approach and planning for the future. We are redesigning our teacher preparation programs for quality while attending to efficiency, starting by redirecting resources to bring together school partners to rethink how we train and coach new teachers. A few changes we are making include: 

  • Holding two summer institutes for faculty, university supervisors, and clinical educators at local schools to develop a shared understanding of critical teaching practices for teacher-candidates
  • Training clinical educators to coach our candidates rather than just supervise their work
  • Paying clinical educators more for the raised expectations of coaching and partnering with us to redesign our programs
  • Revising the curriculum to focus on evidence-based practices
  • Training UNC Charlotte faculty and clinical educators on high-leverage practices ( all our candidates must be skilled at to be ready to teach on day one.
  • Revising the curriculum to build in opportunities for students to rehearse high-leverage practices.
  • Focusing additional attention on addressing the needs of students in high-poverty schools

Now is not the time to ignore quality teacher preparation in favor of fastest to graduation. When new teachers are underprepared, merely filling classrooms not only fails to address the teacher retention problem, it also harms the students of schools plagued by constant turnover. We must ask ourselves what kind of teacher preparation do we want for those teaching our children and grandchildren. The future of North Carolina deserves quality and we should expect it of all programs.

Editor’s note: Some of this author’s work is funded by the Belk Foundation

Ellen McIntyre

Ellen McIntyre is dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Tennessee. She served as dean of the College of Education at UNC Charlotte from 2013-2020. She has studied reading instruction for more than three decades.