Just as Alice is about to fall through the looking glass into an unknown world, a new cohort of teachers are about to walk across their academic stage into the unknown world of their own classroom. Is it too late to evaluate their readiness to transform their enthusiasm for education practice and principles to the day-to-day challenges presented by a diverse group of young learners? Or, is it more appropriate to ask, what is needed to move these successful students from the safety and familiar halls of higher education to the unfamiliar classroom in the ever-changing arena of education?
A series of articles, recently published in The Atlantic investigated this very question about whether teacher preparation programs are doing enough to prepare new teachers to take over their own classrooms. The message woven through all three articles consistently noted the challenges new teachers experience with building relationships, classroom management, and individualized approaches in meeting student needs while balancing work and life obligations.
Check them out if you're interested in reading them in their entirety:
It is no surprise the enthusiasm of new teachers can be depleted when the reality of the complex environment in which they implement teaching practices consumes almost every waking minute of their lives. Can we go as far as comparing this to taking a leap of faith, believing the sales person that our brand new car will take us where we need to go, only to find out that we need to stop for fuel every 50 miles?
Traditional teacher preparation programs have the challenge of meeting accreditation and government regulations in accepting students and preparing them to enter the classroom with the necessary credentials that meet the criteria for new teacher licensing. Variance in how this occurs leads to a wide range of experiences new teachers bring with them to the real world of teaching—most notably the wide range of expectations of actual classroom experience prior to graduation. Alternative teaching programs have been developed to address the changing population of career changers, adult learners and other less traditional students entering the teaching field.
From both program types, new teachers seem to ask the same question: How? With conversation about student gains and teacher retention, can we afford the time it takes to learn as they go?
Taking the conversation around CLASS—from the quantification of quality to the creation of quality—is a reliable and valid way to answer the "How?" question. Deepening conversations about classroom and teacher effectiveness measures has the potential to move the conversation from where we are to where we can go. CLASS, based on developmental theory and research, provides a lens and language across ages. Recognizing the many elements that influence learning, CLASS is unique in its focus on classroom processes or the “how.” How are teachers implementing the activities and curriculum, interacting daily with their students, forming relationships and supporting positive peer interactions? Research supports the importance of teacher-student interactions. CLASS scores are predictive of child development and have revealed a correlation of increased process effectiveness to student outcomes.
As mentioned earlier, the teachers featured in The Atlantic articles consistently expressed concern in their awareness and effectiveness in their ability to establish positive relationships, classroom management, and meeting the individual needs of their students. Weaving more complex conversations about CLASS domains during teacher preparation can expand understanding the connection of quality assessment to quality implementation.
As stated in the introduction of the CLASS manual, “The CLASS measure assesses the quality of teachers’ social and instructional interactions with students as well as the intentionality and productivity evident in classroom settings.” Providing broad domains of Emotional Support, Classroom Organization and Instructional Support across all ages has the potential to set the stage for a walk to success from day one.
When I first learned about CLASS Group Coaching—a training for early childhood professionals about building relationships with children—I was more than a little interested. This, I thought. This is what teaching is all about. It seems to be an obvious concept, but once we dig deeper, we are able to identify the whys and hows of our interactions. CLASS Group Coaching allows us to identify the benefits of our classroom relationships with our students and helps us be intentional in our daily practices. It allows us to utilize each moment we have with our students to deepen our understanding of their perspectives and genuinely connect with them as people. It helps us see the world from their view and guide their learning in a way that is relevant to them.
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.
When I first heard that I was going to have to be observed and coached for my job, I was not thrilled by any means. I immediately thought, Great, someone is going to watch me and tell me how terrible I am. I sincerely thought it was going to be nothing but a negative experience.
I’ve been in the field of early childhood education for over 35 years and absolutely LOVE the CLASS tool. I wish I had CLASS during my years as a teacher and director of ECE programs. I am grateful to have the CLASS tool now to express my continual love for ECE and the importance of great teaching in the early years of children's lives.