Preparation for Teaching in Urban Schools

Most teachers receive some form of training before they enter their own classroom to practice as a full-time educator. In a study of teacher preparation programs in “Surveying the Landscape of Teacher Training in New York City,” two basic types of teacher preparation were described:

1) early entry –students begin full-time teaching before having completed all their certification requirements and

2) college recommending – require student-teaching after the majority of preparation has been completed.

As a result of the need to place teachers in hard-to-staff schools and stimulus from the federal policies No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, there has been an increase in the proliferation of early entry teacher preparation programs because they provide a needed resource in such schools.

Debate on Teacher Preparation

There is a debate as to whether teachers need the kind of preparation offered by college recommending programs. Those who oppose this form of preparation advocate for alternative certification through programs such as Teach For America. They argue that state requirements for licensure are too rigid and prevent otherwise capable instructors from being able to work in schools who need them. They advocate for deregulation and the end of state-sponsored licensure.

Proponents of college recommending preparation argue that teaching requires preparation that can respond to the rigorous demands of the contemporary classroom, which becomes more complex if that classroom is in an urban context.

They describe what the contemporary teacher needs to know before entering the classroom, which includes knowledge, skills, and dispositions for teaching. More specifically, proponents argue that teachers must know about learners, know how to connect curriculum to the wider purposes of education, and use assessment to understand learners and respond appropriately to their learning needs.

Vagle, in “Searching for a Prophetic, Tactful Pedagogy: An attempt to Deepen the Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions Discourse Around Good Teaching,” extended these notions to include the concept of a ‘prophetic tactful pedagogue’ who sees teaching as a way of life, is perceptive of their students’ lives and responds accordingly, who deliberates vicariously to create meaningful spaces for children to learn, and who recognizes and responds to pedagogical moments when the teacher is called upon to provide direction and care.

Urban Schools

The urban context has implications for schooling. Many writers make a note of the distinguishing features of urban schools. Weis describes urban schools in Urban Teaching: The Essentials as places that operate with large ineffective bureaucracies, lack the needed funds to properly educate the children they serve, and have high levels of diversity.

Others have further delineated the unique aspects of the urban schools and these include high population density, profound income disparity, high levels of student, teacher, and administrator mobility, and student populations likely to have health problems.

Because these distinctively urban traits impact student learning, many researchers argue that the education provided here must address these matters. For example, Solomon wrote “Ideally, urban education provides a curriculum and pedagogy that increases the life opportunities and the practice of responsible citizenship of those residing in urban communities…To accomplish this, however, requires a teacher preparation that moves beyond subject instruction, beyond the images of urban schools as dangerous and foreboding places, to focus more on the larger social, economic, and political structures that maintain urban communities in marginal, inequitable existence.”

Thus the specific issues presented in the urban setting necessitate a specific form of teacher preparation. Researchers have found that teachers with early entry preparation are less effective in raising student achievement in urban schools than those with more preparation.

Teacher Training Makes a Difference

Does teacher preparation, which indicates the route by which teachers enter urban school classrooms, make a difference? Research leans toward the idea that teacher preparation absolutely makes a difference because it may or may not give future instructors the training and practice needed to work in urban schools. Teachers in urban schools need knowledge, skills, and dispositions that work best with high-need students, but they also need to be prophetic, tactful pedagogues to be effective in this unique context.