As lawmakers turn their attention to improving teacher preparation, they have access to a wealth of analysis about the quality of prep programs and recommendations for how to improve teacher prep policy, including our own.

What are not so readily available are the experiences and opinions of teachers themselves. To change that, Ed Trust partnered with Teach Plus to bring a group of their Teaching Policy Fellows to Capitol Hill this week for a candid conversation about their own preparation experiences.

These fellows are experienced, effective teachers from across the country, working in high-poverty schools. They come from a variety of preparation backgrounds — traditional and alternative, undergraduate and graduate — and, as expected, had very different preparation experiences. But throughout the conversation, some themes surfaced again and again. Among them:

  • Prospective students need more and better information about the quality of prep programs. When choosing which programs to attend, fellows wanted clear, accessible information on the academic background of enrolled students (average SAT/ACT scores, GPAs), as well as information on how program graduates fare once they get into the classroom. Because that information wasn’t available, they found themselves making decisions based on the reputation of the institution as a whole, or on ratings they didn’t necessarily understand.
  • Programs don’t prepare prospective teachers for classroom realities. Fellows were taught how to craft a strong lesson, but not how to differentiate that lesson when some students are far behind and need additional support while others are far ahead and need acceleration. Likewise, fellows said they weren’t taught workable strategies for classroom management or parent engagement.
  • Good clinical experiences matter. A lot. Fellows repeatedly stressed the need to get out of university lecture halls and into the kinds of classrooms they’ll be teaching in. But they were quick to say that it’s not enough just to be in a classroom. Teacher candidates need strong mentors, ones who are effective at educating children and at supporting teacher candidates. While some fellows had strong mentors who prepared them well for the demands of teaching, others could only imagine how much better their first years of teaching would have been if they had.
  • Prep programs have real influence over the kinds of schools teachers want — and are prepared — to teach in. Some fellows attended programs specifically geared toward preparing candidates to teach in schools serving large concentrations of low-income students. They learned about the challenges and opportunities of teaching in these schools and were given extra supports to be successful. Others, however, were told that preparation was preparation, no matter what kind of school they’d end up teaching in. And some were actively discouraged from going into high-poverty settings. Had they gone with the flow, these effective educators might never have taught in the kinds of communities where they’re so sorely needed.