Faculty in the School of Education believe programs must guide learners through a developmental process extending across pre-service and in-service contexts.
Professional education candidates, like all learners, construct knowledge in a developmental sequence. (Earle, Seehafer, & Ostlund, 2001). Sharon Feiman-Nemser (2003) maintains that learning to teach, especially the kind of teaching reflected in ambitious standards for students and teachers, is a complex and lengthy undertaking. It requires coherent and connected learning opportunities that link initial preparation to new teacher induction and new teacher induction to continuing professional development. Reform-minded educators refer to the creation of a “seamless bridge” between university preparation and school-based induction (Howey and Zimpher, 1999). Preservice preparation can start the process of learning to teach by transforming commonsense ideas about teaching and personal experiences of schooling into professional commitments, thus laying a strong foundation for continued professional development (Feiman-Nemser 2003).
The UAB School of Education faculty subscribe to the notion of a continuum of professional educator development (Fuller, 1969; Katz, 1995; Moir, 2001; Huberman, 1989; Steffy & Wolfe, 2001). The faculty believes professional education candidates progress along a developmental continuum promoting a vision of good practice based upon transferring knowledge and contextual experience from one developmental level to another, thus advancing continuous growth and development throughout a teacher’s career. In their education programs, professional education candidates are expected to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to function effectively in the K-12 setting. Coupled with pedagogy is preparation in liberal arts and specific subject matter designed to ensure that professional education candidates are highly qualified as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act (Paige, 2002). They are transitioned into schools through clinical experiences where they are introduced to master teachers who demonstrate skill in teaching and learning. As interns, the professional education candidates are expected to create effective learning environments and implement acquired skills and knowledge in both academic content and pedagogy. At this point the professional education candidates should gain confidence in their abilities as a teacher through actual classroom practices and learn more about themselves as professionals.
Even the best professional education training program does not fully prepare new professionals for the responsibilities that come with a full time teaching position. Schon (1987) observes that beginning teachers are asked to demonstrate skills and abilities that they do not have and can only gain by beginning to do what they do not yet understand. The continuum of teacher development (New Teacher Center, 2002) gives support to the supposition that novice teachers focus on the basic survival of their initial year in the profession. During the second year of teaching, beginning teachers focus on strengthening content knowledge and pedagogical skills. It is not until the third year that teachers link teaching performance with student achievement. At each level of the continuum, the novice teacher experiences specific needs that should be addressed by a mentoring program. The UAB School of Education faculty believes that this transition from student teacher to self-directed professional should be a seamless continuation of learning. Therefore, new teacher induction, in collaboration with areas schools, is regarded as a part of a teacher’s developmental process and constitutes a seamless flow from the pre-service teacher-training program through the third year of teaching, at a minimum (Feinman-Nemser, 2003; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Moir and Gless, 2001).
The professional education candidate, defined as a lifetime teacher or administrator, requires meaningful professional development opportunities to continue the learning process and to stay up-to-date on current trends and issues in education. The UAB School of Education faculty believe that professional development, in the form of graduate programs, should move educators toward the higher standards defined by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (1997). The graduate programs are geared toward helping established educators become more knowledgeable and flexible practitioners who are able to learn continuously from their practice as evidenced in student work. Based on the theoretical work of Mezirow and Associates (2000), established educators in the graduate program will engage in transformational processes including critical reflection on practice, redefinition of assumptions and beliefs, and enhanced self worth. It is presumed that this process will propel established educators through a cycle of reflection-renewal-growth.