Faculty in the School of Education believe in the importance of preparing professional education candidates through supervised practice within school and community settings.
Professionals in all educational fields perform better on the job if they have had quality field experiences in their pre-service training. Prospective professional educators need exposure to the types of situations they may encounter. Such experiences can only be gained through clinical experiences and student teaching. “Real world” setting experiences are invaluable for a number of reasons. Some of these include: the positive impact clinical experiences have on teacher attrition, teacher self-confidence, and plans to stay in the profession (Darling-Hammond, 2003). Additionally, studies show that graduates of teacher education programs not only feel better prepared, they can positively affect their students’ achievement more so than non-graduates of teacher education programs (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2003). One reason for this difference is that graduates of teacher education programs have participated in supervised clinical experiences, while those entering the teaching professions via alternative routes do not receive the same opportunities.
The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003) states that “Clinical practice, in diverse settings, under the supervision of faculty and accomplished teachers, contributes to the development of a highly qualified teacher.” Furthermore, the Commission writes, teaching is a clinical skill and clinical practice in schools takes in complex environments and requires interaction with students, other faculty, administrators, families, and community. The Commission also agrees that lack of clinical experience contributes to burnout and attrition.
High quality professional education programs provide clinical experiences that are implemented with collaboration of K-12 schools and higher education. Working together, K-12 and higher education can design quality, supervised experiences for candidates in a professional setting (The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 2003).
The importance of subject matter competency is not to be diminished. What seems to be just as important and perhaps more so, is the teacher’s experience (Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2002). Rowan and colleagues (2002) have found that the most consistent predictor of young students’ achievement was the teacher’s years of experience and not the subject matter competency. Therefore, while field and clinical experiences cannot totally prepare the pre-service teacher candidate for what may be encountered, field and clinical experiences can and do make a difference. Quality professional educators receive most of their pedagogical training in their preparation programs. This evidence indicates that “high-quality student teaching and methods courses enable teachers to profit from experience.” (Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2002).
Professional education candidates in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education will be exposed to master teachers who demonstrate skill in teaching. This will be accomplished through field experiences involving guided observation, reflection, and discussion of case studies. Boger (2000) found that pre-service teacher candidates, when observed during their field experiences, made choices “incongruent with what they were taught in professional education classes and inconsistent with what research documents about teaching.” She therefore strongly proposed that additional experiential education models be integrated into teacher education programs. Moore (2003) has found pre-service teachers become overwhelmed with procedural issues. Additional time in the classroom may help to alleviate this situation. This must be “quality” time spent in the school. Objectives for observations or other activities must be clear, and there needs to be adequate reflection on what has been observed or experienced.Through student teaching, professional education candidates will engage in clinical experiences that will provide opportunities to structure the learning environment, demonstrate the skills and knowledge they have acquired, and implement effective assessment of their students. Novice teachers can benefit from mentoring programs (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Fairbanks, Freedman & Kahn, 2000; Feiman-Nemser, 2001). The literature focuses on the benefit colleagues of the beginning teacher can provide as mentors. Mentoring can also come from higher-education faculty through graduate programs. Many professionals return to school to enhance their skills. Faculty in these programs can not only provide direction to enhance skills, but also help those in graduate programs reflect and evaluate their teaching skills and enhance their range of methods and assessment.