In many states, it’s easier to become a teacher than a licensed driver. That needs to change, says Sarah Beal, executive director of US PREP National Center, the University School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation.

Beal is one of 15 education leaders who will be featured at the Next Education Workforce Summit 2022, hosted by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, in February. The virtual event, which will take place over a day and a half, will bring together education leaders and experts, and provide the opportunity to collaborate to redesign the education workforce. 

Here, Beal shares how her expertise in university-based teacher preparation programming and district partnerships relates to Next Education Workforce models. 

Q: Your expertise is in university-based teacher preparation programming. What connections do you see between this area and the Next Education Workforce?

Beal: I began my career at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, where I spent eight years leading the piloting and scaling of the year-long student teaching experience. We prioritized partnerships with schools, which meant we had to rethink our faculty roles at the college. For the last six years, I have been leading the University School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation. We work with 26 colleges of education to support them in transforming their teacher preparation programs so that all of the candidates experience a year-long student teaching residency under the guidance of a highly qualified mentor teacher.

What is one thing you would most like people to know about your work?

When it comes to preparing teachers, educator preparation programs must prioritize their district partners. This means programs need to think about how they are positioning faculty members to meet with districts and should structure district meetings to be collaborative and intentional.

What have you seen in your life and your work that’s convinced you we need a different model of schooling and learning?

Ensuring all students are taught by a well-trained and competent teacher needs to be a national priority.  In many states, it’s easier to become a teacher than a licensed driver. My 16-year-old son recently got his driver’s permit. While requirements differ from state to state, the minimum in each state ensures that the driver completes 20 hours of supervised, behind-the-wheel daytime driving practice and 10 hours of supervised, behind-the-wheel nighttime driving practice before applying for a driver’s license. Most of us remember going into the DMV to take the driving test — a performance assessment where one shows that they meet specific driving competencies, including skills that require the driver to make judgment calls and take action in the moment. 

These requirements are important to the safety of ourselves and others on the road. Why would we not expect the same of those we put in charge of educating our youth? When it comes to preparing teachers — who affect the lives of hundreds of children each day — our standards are inconsistent and in some cases, much lower than the requirements to get a driver’s license. Many states have seen an unprecedented surge in the number of new teachers who are prepared via alternative certification pathways, meaning they are not required to have any classroom experience and little-to-no teacher preparation training before becoming a classroom teacher. 

These standards, or lack thereof, deprofessionalize the teaching profession and send a message about what we prioritize for our children. They also set candidates up to perform poorly because they were poorly prepared. Ultimately, PreK–12 students pay the price. While alternative certification teacher policy has helped address teacher quantity issues, such policies slow or prevent long-term, systemic and sustainable growth for the profession and the communities that depend on effective classroom teachers the most.

Teacher preparation residencies, where candidates spend a full year student teaching under the guidance of a highly effective mentor teacher, experience the entirety of the school year with their students, meeting their students’ families, attending all aspects of school functioning, and teaching a full grade-level curriculum, seem like common sense. Residencies have shown to be effective in preparing an ethnically diverse teacher workforce, preparing candidates for the realities of the classroom and retaining teachers in the profession.

People frequently talk about equity in education, and sometimes it seems they are not talking about the same thing. What do you think we should mean when we talk about equity in education? 

First, we need to prioritize and set high-quality standards for teacher training. In recent years, state policies have allowed many teachers to become certified through programs that offer little training and support. These ill-prepared teachers are teaching our most vulnerable populations and doing so without showing any level of readiness or proficiency in teaching. The idea that many children are being taught by novice, untrained teachers is an equity issue.

What approaches have you seen used by school and district administrators who are successful in creating systems-level changes to educator staffing models? Can you give us a specific example?

Our work in US PREP has primarily focused on supporting educator preparation programs with rethinking their faculty roles and responsibilities. This past year, we have begun working with their school district partners to support strategic staffing design with residents. Although this work is new to us, we have seen schools think differently about how they can leverage residents to fulfill school responsibilities such as substitute roles, paraprofessional roles, tutoring, etc. We have also seen schools refrain from filling their vacancy positions and instead increase class sizes and add residents to those classrooms for the purpose of team teaching. 

Enjoyed the conversation? 

Hear more from Sarah Beal on education policy and preparing educators at her featured expert sessions at the Next Education Workforce Summit on Feb. 2, 2022.