It is not a secret that the scope of education is constantly evolving. With these evolutions, in-service teachers are forced to adapt to curricular, instructional, and classroom management demands in schools across the world. This has triggered many institutes of higher education to adapt as well. Teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions are tasked with the responsibility to prepare pre-service teachers to teach effectively and to have a positive impact on student achievement in the midst of educational reforms that are sweeping across our country. Building culture in teacher preparation is essential in order to tackle this task. Creating a positive culture can assist in the development of pre-service teachers during their teaching and learning experiences.
I can vividly recall my experiences as a student in teacher preparation at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I would enter the Department of Education and be met with a smile, a warm welcome, and a genuine concern for my progress personally and academically. All my professors had an open door policy and high expectations, and they provided me with the personalized resources to succeed as a teacher in training. Even during my student teaching experiences, reflective spaces were created with interactive dialogue, flexible attitudes, and wisdom exchanges. I felt a sense of comfort, compassion, and care that is consistent with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a hierarchy that suggests a person must feel healthy, safe, connected, and respected to become all they can be.
I remember a life-changing conversation that I had with one of my professors as a student. This professor’s response to my situation would soon give me spine-tingling chills and teary eyes. I was approaching my last semester before graduating with my Master of Arts in Teaching. I did not have enough financial support to finish my course load. Things were really gloomy. Fortunately, this professor reminded me about grant funding acquired to support students with rigorous lesson planning. As a graduate student, I was eligible to receive this scholarship by using the Thinkfinity digital learning platform to create lesson plans for my future classroom. As a result of this grant, I was awarded with enough financial support to graduate as a certified Teacher. I credit this combination of environmental, personal, professional, and financial support with later helping me to achieve the prestigious award of Maryland State Teacher of the Year out of over 55,000 teachers in the state.
This behavior builds a teacher preparation culture and should be emulated. We need to create warm and welcoming environments for our pre-service teachers at all times. We need to build positive relationships between professors and teacher candidates, seeking to first understand their culture and how that shapes them individually. We need to change the standard to one of appreciation for the current level of knowledge students have and for all the effort that goes into becoming an effective teacher. We need to personalize training and resources to support the professional growth and certification of teacher candidates. The natural conclusion is that when pre-service teachers are acknowledged, appreciated, understood, and supported they can become the best they can be: effective teachers for our children, who are at the forefront of our work.
Richard Warren is Maryland’s 2019 Teacher of the Year is on faculty the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.