Shouldn’t More Be Done to Prepare New Teachers?

We've all been inside a classroom, and there's a good chance we've each had at least one teacher who wasn't prepared for the task at hand.

For far too long, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), this trend has gone unnoticed by policymakers.

In an effort to propel lawmakers into action, the organization put out a report entitled the 2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. It grades the country, and each state, on how well it prepares incoming teachers. America was given a D+ on teacher preparedness policies, and zero states were given an A.

Alabama, Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee ranked at the top of the list, each receiving a B-. Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming received failing grades.

The reports points out that only 24 states require a basic skills test when screening applicants. Also, it exposes how shockingly low standards are for elementary school teachers.

While teaching kids to read is perhaps an elementary teacher's biggest responsibility, it isn't treated that way at the policy level. "Only 10 states appropriately assess teacher proficiency in effective reading instruction. And only 11 states adequately test new elementary teachers' knowledge of mathematics."

The problem, according to the report, is that while many states are focused on identifying effective teachers in the classroom, they are "neglecting opportunities to get it right from the start by setting rigorous standards and high expectations for what teachers should know and should be able to do before they are licensed to become teachers."

Ellen Moir, founder and CEO of New Teacher Center, a nonprofit dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers and school leaders, echoes this sentiment. She wrote on TakePart that, "Despite the current focus on making sure all educators are effective, we are not setting up most new teachers to make a difference, and their students pay the price."

Moir calls the first year of teaching a "sink or swim" experience and believes teaching mentors can make a big difference. She writes, "Research shows that when new teachers receive the right support, they are more effective and remain in the profession. What does the right support look like? We call it comprehensive new teacher mentoring and induction. It involves the guidance of successful, experienced teachers who have been trained to mentor new teachers and create relevant, timely opportunities for groups of new teachers to learn together."

The NCTQ report touches on mentorship before teachers even receive their first teaching position. It points out that only three states—Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee—require the educator assigned to mentor a student teacher be proven as an effective teacher. Today, placement is more likely to be "the luck of the draw."

NCTQ president Kate Walsh said in a statement, that she hopes policymakers will use this report as a roadmap "on how to get teacher effectiveness right from the start." They can do this, she says, "by setting higher expectations for what teachers need to know and are able to do before they are licensed to become teachers."

Do you think teachers need more preparation before they step foot inside a classroom? Share your thoughts in comments.

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Diary of a First-Year Teacher: Finally, I’m Out of Survival Mode

• Diary of a First-Year Teacher: The First Month

• A California Teacher’s Secret to Raising Grades and Morale

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee |