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Teacher Quality: A Report on The Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers
NCES: 1999080
January 1999

Teachers' Feelings of Preparedness

The final aspect of the teacher quality model used in this study is teachers' feelings of preparedness. In previous chapters, this FRSS report provided information on a number of measures of teacher preparation and qualifications, including preservice and continued learning and work environments. However, teachers now are challenged by reform initiatives to meet new requirements that have not been part of the conventional repertoire of expectations for effective classroom teaching and for which many teachers have not been adequately prepared during their professional training. As a result, information about teacher qualifications and preparation does not completely address whether preservice and continued learning and work environments adequately prepare teachers to meet the often complex and changing demands they face in their classrooms. Teachers' feelings of preparedness may indicate the extent to which their training prepares them to meet these challenges.

Teachers' Preparedness for Classroom Requirements

To fully answer the question of whether educators are adequately prepared to teach our children requires extensive, in-depth studies of teachers (including their practices) and student outcomes-both of which are beyond the scope of this report. However, one approach to addressing these concerns is to examine the extent to which teachers themselves feel prepared to meet these demands. The 1998 survey asked teachers to indicate how well prepared they felt for some of the most compelling classroom demands; these requirements were discussed earlier as content areas in which teachers had professional development (see chapter 3). The requirements were:

  • Maintain order and discipline in the classroom;


  • Implement new methods of teaching (e.g., cooperative learning);

  • Implement state or district curriculum and performance standards;

  • Use student performance assessment techniques;

  • Address the needs of students with disabilities;

  • Integrate educational technology into the grade or subject taught; and

  • Address the needs of students with limited English proficiency or from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The data indicate that teachers generally felt either "moderately" or "somewhat" well prepared for most classroom activities (Table 21). One exception was teacher preparedness to maintain classroom order and discipline; a majority (71 percent) of teachers felt "very well prepared" for this classroom demand. In contrast, few teachers (9 percent or less) felt they were not at all prepared for various activities. The one exception was that 17 percent of teachers felt not at all prepared to address the needs of students who lack proficiency in English or come from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Since feeling "very well prepared" is one possible indicator of a high-quality teacher, it is useful to compare teachers' self-assessments across classroom activities to identify the requirements for which teachers felt most prepared. Teachers were most likely to report being very well prepared for maintaining order and discipline in the classroom (71 percent; Table 21).

Classroom management has been identified as a major influence on teacher performance, a key source of teachers' job-related stress, and, in general, an essential prerequisite for student learning (Jones, 1996). Having an overwhelming majority of teachers who felt very well prepared to meet this core classroom requirement is an important indicator. Fewer teachers felt very well prepared to meet other typical classroom requirements for which teachers receive both initial and on-the-job training (Table 21). For instance, fewer teachers believed they were very well prepared to implement new teaching methods (41 percent), implement state or district curriculum and performance standards (36 percent), and use student performance assessment techniques (28 percent).

Teachers were least likely to report being very well prepared for activities that have more recently become an essential part of expectations for classroom teaching: integrating educational technology into the grade or subject taught, addressing the needs of limited English proficient or culturally diverse students, and addressing the needs of students with disabilities (Table 21). While many educators and policy analysts consider educational technology a vehicle for transforming education, relatively few teachers felt very well equipped to integrate technology into classroom instruction (20 percent).

Increased classroom diversity has brought equity issues to the forefront of the education reform agenda, but past studies have shown that many teachers were not trained to meet the demands of diverse student populations. 20 The 1998 survey found that 54 percent of the teachers taught limited English proficient or culturally diverse students, while 71 percent taught students with disabilities (not shown in tables). However, at a time when classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, relatively few teachers reported being very well prepared to address the needs of limited English proficient or culturally diverse students (20 percent) or students with disabilities (21 percent, Table 21).

The likelihood of being very or moderately well prepared to address the needs of limited English proficient or culturally diverse students varied with the percent minority enrollment in the school (Figure 23). Thus, among teachers who taught limited English proficient or culturally diverse students, 27 percent of teachers from schools with more than 50 percent minority enrollment believed they were very well prepared to meet the needs of these students, compared with 10 percent feeling very well prepared at schools with minority enrollments of 5 percent or less.

Teacher Preparedness and Teaching Experience


Beginning teachers are rarely totally prepared to meet core classroom requirements, including classroom management. Yet, in the context of education reform, experience may not necessarily translate into better teacher preparedness for certain classroom activities, unless experienced teachers have had continued training to upgrade their skills and knowledge in those areas.

Integrating technology into classroom instruction and employing new teaching strategies are two such areas. It is therefore useful to examine whether teaching experience makes a difference in the extent to which teachers felt prepared for various classroom requirements.

Teachers' self-perceived preparedness for various classroom activities did not always vary by teaching experience (Table 22). For instance, teachers' perceptions of being very well prepared to implement new methods of teaching did not vary significantly by teaching experience.

Similarly, newer teachers did not differ from more experienced teachers in feeling very well prepared to address the needs of students with limited English proficiency or from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Teaching experience might be expected to make a difference in being prepared to manage classrooms because this area of expertise may be particularly problematic for beginning teachers (Jones 1996). The 1998 data supported this expectation (Table 22). Teachers with 3 or fewer years of teaching experience were less likely than more experienced teachers to report being very well prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. The extent to which teachers felt prepared to implement state or district curriculum also varied by teaching experience, with newer teachers less likely than more experienced teachers to report being very well prepared for this classroom requirement (Table 22).

Teacher Preparedness and Participation in Professional Development


As a subjective measure of teacher quality, teacher preparedness incorporates what the teacher brings to the classroom from preservice learning and on-the-job learning. To the extent that professional development is geared to provide on-the-job-learning in key areas of classroom teaching, recent participation in professional development programs should contribute to teachers being better prepared for the requirements of classroom teaching. It is therefore important to examine the degree of correspondence between the level of teacher participation in professional development in various content areas in the past 12 months and the extent to which teachers felt prepared for classroom responsibilities in these areas.

High levels of recent teacher participation in professional development in various content areas generally did not match overall levels of selfperceived teacher preparedness for a classroom activity (Table 23). In every classroom activity except one, the proportion of teachers who had recently participated in professional development on a relevant topic was considerably higher than the proportion of teachers who felt very well prepared for that classroom requirement. The one exception to this pattern was classroom management. While about half of the teachers had recent professional development in this content area, a much higher proportion of teachers felt very well prepared for the classroom requirement (71 percent).

Differences between the proportion of teachers who had recent professional development versus the proportion of teachers who felt very well prepared for classroom demands provide a rough assessment of the degree of correspondence between opportunities for on-the-job learning and overall needs for ongoing teacher preparation.

These differences point to disparities between recent teacher participation in professional development and self-perceived teacher preparedness for classroom demands, but they do not directly address the impact of recent professional development on teacher preparedness. It is not easy, however, to assess this impact, since recent exposure to professional development is only one of several influences on teacher preparedness for core classroom requirements. 21 In every content area except classroom management, less than half of the teachers who had recent professional development felt very well prepared to meet classroom requirements in these areas (Table 23). For example, of the teachers who recently participated in professional development in implementing new teaching methods, 43 percent felt very well prepared for this classroom activity. Similarly, 38 percent of teachers who had professional development in implementing state or district curriculum and performance standards felt very well prepared for the classroom activity.

Another way to assess the impact of professional development is to examine differences in preparedness between the proportion of teachers who had recently participated in professional development in each content area versus those who did not participate (Figure 24). In general, teachers who had participated in professional development in a content area were more likely than their peers to indicate that they felt very well prepared in that area. For example, those who had professional development in implementing new teaching methods were more likely than those who did not participate to believe they were very well prepared to implement new teaching methods in the classroom (43 versus 34 percent).

Maintaining classroom order and discipline was the only activity in which teacher preparedness did not vary according to the general pattern, but this finding may be clouded by the association between teaching experience and participation in professional development in classroom management. Newer teachers were more likely to have had recent professional development in this content area, but they also felt least prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.

These data might suggest that attending workshops and seminars may not be the most effective way of developing this important classroom expertise, since managing students may be more easily learned in the classroom environment and with teaching experience.

Teacher Preparedness and Intensity of Professional Development


Professional development is more likely to bring about long-term change in teacher performance if it is intense. One measure of intensity is the time spent in the programs. The frequency of participation in various professional development programs was examined against the extent to which teachers felt prepared to do various activities in the classroom (Table 24).

The extent to which teachers felt very well prepared to engage in most activities increased with the time spent in recent professional development in that activity. For example, teachers who spent over 8 hours in programs in the last 12 months that focused on the integration of technology in classrooms were more likely than those who spent 1 to 8 hours or those who did not participate at all to indicate that they felt very well prepared to meet this classroom requirement.

The data suggest that for professional development to achieve its goal of improving teacher preparedness for classroom requirements, teachers need to spend more than a day of training in a relevant content area. The extent to which teachers felt very well prepared for classroom requirements did not always vary by whether teachers spent 1 to 8 hours or did not participate at all in relevant professional development during the past 12 months (Table 24). For instance, teachers who spent 1 to 8 hours in professional development programs that focused on implementing state or district curriculum and performance standards, did not differ from those who had no relevant professional development to report they felt very well prepared to meet this classroom requirement (33 versus 30 percent).

Teacher Preparedness and Collaborative Activities


Teacher collaboration was identified as a second major mechanism of on-the-job learning. To the extent that collaborative activities provide teachers with opportunities for on-going development, participation in these activities should better prepare teachers for classroom demands. The 1998 survey data partially supported this expectation (Table 25).

Common planning periods for team teaching and regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers explicitly emphasize teacher exchange of pedagogical and subject matter knowledge.

Teacher preparedness varied by recent participation in both of these collaborative activities (Table 25). Teachers who engaged in common planning periods for team teaching were more likely than those who did not participate in the activity to report that they felt very well prepared to implement new teaching methods, implement state and district curriculum and performance standards, use student performance assessment techniques, maintain order and discipline, and address the needs of students with disabilities. Similarly, teachers who participated in regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers felt better prepared than their peers to implement new teaching methods, implement state or district curriculum and performance standards, use student performance techniques, and address the needs of students with disabilities.

Networking with teachers outside the school was related to teacher preparedness for most classroom requirements, with those who recently participated in collaborative activities more likely to report feeling very well prepared for the classroom demand (Table 25). For example, teachers who recently engaged in networking with teachers outside the school were more likely than those who did not participate to report that they felt very well prepared to implement new teaching methods (45 versus 34 percent) and integrate educational technology into the grade or subject taught (23 versus 16 percent). Similarly, teachers who engaged in individual and collaborative research felt better prepared than their peers to meet most of the classroom requirements considered in the survey.

Mentoring relationships may yield benefits for both mentor teachers and those who are mentored. The survey found mixed patterns on the relation between being mentored and teacher preparedness for various classroom demands (Table 25). Teacher preparedness for a few classroom requirements differed by whether teachers were mentored. Teachers who were mentored felt better prepared than their peers to use student performance techniques (33 versus 27 percent) and address the needs of limited English proficient or culturally diverse students (23 versus 19 percent) but less likely to report feeling very well prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom (61 versus 73 percent). Moreover, being mentored was not related to teacher preparedness for the other four classroom requirements examined in the survey. One possible interpretation of these findings is being mentored may not necessarily contribute to teachers feeling better prepared for classroom demands. However, the findings may also be clouded by the influence of teaching experience on whether or not teachers were mentored. As discussed earlier, for example, newer teachers were far more likely than more experienced teachers to be mentored, but they also felt less prepared for classroom management.

In contrast to teachers who were mentored, those who served as mentors were more likely than their peers to report that they felt very well prepared for six of seven classroom requirements examined in the survey (Table 25). Again, these patterns may be clouded by the influence of teaching experience, since experienced teachers were more likely than newer teachers to serve as mentors.

Summary


Teachers' feelings of preparedness are one important indicator of the extent to which they are prepared to meet the challenges that characterize their profession. Results presented in this report indicate that a majority of teachers felt either "moderately" or "somewhat" well prepared for most classroom requirements; relatively few teachers felt "very well prepared" for many of the activities. Although a majority of the teachers felt very well prepared to manage classrooms and 41 percent felt very well prepared to implement new teaching methods, less than a third felt very well prepared to integrate educational technology or to address the needs of students with limited English proficiency or from culturally diverse backgrounds, or with disabilities.

Teachers' feelings of preparedness may also provide insight into the extent to which opportunities for continued learning prepare them to teach. For example, do teachers who recently participated in formal professional development activities or in collaborative activities actually feel more prepared for various classroom requirements than their peers? Results presented in this section suggest that participation in the activities yielded some positive outcomes for teacher preparedness.

In general, teachers who recently participated in formal professional development felt better prepared than their peers for most classroom demands. Moreover, teachers' feeling of preparedness increased significantly with the number of hours spent in professional development activities. However, preparedness for classroom demands did not always vary by whether teachers spent less than 8 hours or did not participate at all in formal professional development, suggesting that the duration of exposure to opportunities for learning may be an important consideration.

Teachers who recently engaged in various collaborative activities also felt better prepared than their peers to meet most classroom demands.

For example, those who had common planning periods for team teaching felt better equipped than their peers to address many of the classroom demands examined in the survey. In contrast, being mentored did not always yield similar benefits; for example, teachers who were mentored felt less prepared than their peers to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.

However, this finding may be clouded by the fact that newer teachers were far more likely to be mentored than more experienced teachers, but they also felt less prepared to manage classrooms.

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20For instance, an earlier report on the 1993-94 SASS data showed that while 39 percent of all teachers taught students with limited English proficiency, just over one-quarter of teachers with these students had any training to meet this student need (U.S. Department of Education, 1997).

21Other influences include initial teacher preparation, teaching experience, and other opportunities for teacher learning.

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