When Marymount University education professor Shirley Smith was training to be a teacher, she had the usual abbreviated experience in a real classroom -- 12 weeks with a sixth grade in Greensburg, Pa.
It was not what she had hoped for. "I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do and the energy it demanded simply to survive," she said. There was little time to reflect on what she had learned or to hear what more experienced teachers thought of her work.
So when she had a chance to train a new generation of teachers differently, she grabbed it. Her university in Arlington, Va., now runs one of a growing number of programs to give students a full year in the classroom, and sometimes even more.
The idea is to train teachers like doctors. New teachers, advocates say, should have long internships under the close supervision of mentor teachers so they can be confident and effective when they go out on their own.
Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond said two states, Colorado and North Carolina, now require at least a year of student teaching for those seeking teacher licenses. More than 200 colleges and universities offer a full year of classroom experience, some for undergraduates and some for professionals switching careers. Some universities -- including Howard and the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles -- have two-year programs, with the teacher often earning a salary in the second year, Darling-Hammond said.
It is expensive, she said, but her research shows it is "cheaper to train someone well who will stay in the profession than to have a continual revolving door of recruits who are gone after two or three years."
Not all experts accept that analysis. Willis Hawley, professor of education and public affairs at the University of Maryland, said the lengthened internships increase the cost of becoming a teacher without doing anything to improve salaries and working conditions once interns become full-time teachers. Thus, fewer good candidates will enroll in training programs and the pool of good teachers will shrink, he said.
"Even with lengthy internships, student teachers would still likely experience a limited range of classroom problems and instructional situations," said Sharon Derry, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Not all mentoring teachers will have the time or capability to help student teachers think about, reflect upon, interpret and learn from the experiences they do encounter."
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