American University’s School of Education graduate elementary teacher preparation program has been named among the top in the country by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research and policy organization, for strong commitment to quality clinical practice experiences aimed at preparing aspiring teachers for the realities of the classroom.
AU’s program stands out as among only 33 traditional elementary programs that earn an A (of more than 1,100 evaluated) due to strong clinical experience requirements, including student teaching and residencies, and serves as a model of excellence for others. These top-performing programs are recognized for: Requiring candidates to spend 10 or more weeks in an experienced teacher’s classroom, including at least four days per week or the equivalent in the classroom each week; screening mentor teachers for mentorship skill and/or instructional effectiveness as measured by student learning, among other skills; and requiring program supervisors to give student teachers written feedback based on observations at least four times during the clinical practice experience.
The evidence for the importance of high-quality clinical experience is undeniable. A National Research Council report said that clinical practice experience is one of three “aspects of preparation that have the highest potential for effects on outcomes for students,” and recent research has found that having a high-quality clinical practice experience can mean a first-year teacher starts out as effective as a typical teacher in her third year.
“Teachers need to learn from other teachers. Mentorship and experiential education are key components of a teacher’s education at American University’s School of Education, and they are critical for teachers’ success in teaching K-5 students,” said SOE Dean Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy. “An “A” grade from the National Council on Teacher Quality reflects the School of Education’s commitment to clinical practice.”
Of the three indicators NCTQ examines, almost all traditional elementary programs dedicate sufficient time for clinical practice to occur, with 99 percent of programs (not including alternative programs that put teachers directly into their own classrooms) requiring practice of at least 10 weeks, and over two thirds of programs (70 percent) making sure that their elementary teacher candidates are observed frequently. However, despite significant research on the outsized impact of the mentor teacher, only 3 percent require the classroom mentor teacher to be both effective (in terms of student learning) and have the skills to mentor another adult. A major obstacle to teacher preparation programs adopting more rigorous screening of mentor teachers appears to be that they traditionally defer to school districts in the selection of mentors. (Teacher residency programs proved to be a notable exception to this practice, with 88 percent of these programs playing a more active role in the selection of classroom mentors for aspiring teachers.)
“These top programs are to be commended,” observed Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “Too many teacher prep programs struggle to make clinical practice a meaningful learning experience for aspiring teachers – especially when it comes to selecting effective mentor teachers, often due to lack of quality control by their partner school districts. The effort that these top programs have made to ensure alignment with their local districts so they can offer strong clinical experiences will have lasting positive impacts on their teacher candidates, and more importantly, their candidates’ future students.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has, at least for this year, reshaped much of what happens in schools, including clinical practice experiences for aspiring teachers. Many states and teacher preparation programs have moved their clinical practice experiences online or abbreviated them. However, the basic principles of quality clinical practice still stand in spite of COVID and are still critical to the success of aspiring teachers in their future careers.
Now in its fourth edition, the Teacher Prep Review assigns a team of experts to evaluate teacher preparation programs on three elements of clinical practice: 1) the length of the experience, 2) the frequency of observation and feedback from a program supervisor, and 3) that the program requires that mentor teachers are effective and have the skills needed to mentor another adult.