At The University of New Mexico, hopeful news out of its College of Education. Reform is afoot, starting at the best place, the beginning — focusing on the training of future teachers. Last week, administrators announced a multimillion-dollar effort to improve teacher training so that from day one, a new teacher can change the lives of students in the classroom.
Starting with hiring a new dean of education, the college plans to focus on more hands-on training for prospective teachers, increasing graduate-level research and more specialization. (We would think that closing the achievement gap between minority and Anglo students, teaching to non-English speakers and addressing Indian education are three natural specialties for UNM.)
The search for a new dean will go nationwide, with an attempt to bring in someone on the cutting edge, not just of education reform, but of how to grow and train excellent teachers. This is no quick fix, either. Provost Chaouki Abdallah told the Albuquerque Journal, “it’s probably a five- to 10-year plan.” The initiative is in response to a Legislative Finance Committee report last year that found New Mexico colleges aren’t doing enough to prepare teachers for the classrooms. Research has proven that just a year or two with a poorly qualified teacher can set children back a lifetime.
Education reform, which focuses more on current classrooms and teachers, has not seemed to improve learning. One reason, perhaps, is that not enough effort has been spent on preparing college students to become teachers. In an era of sound-bite solutions, we like to think that teacher training can take place during six weeks of boot camp-like studying. Countries where children excel in learning respect teaching, putting educators up there with doctors, lawyers and engineers. That means better pay but also comprehensive standards and professional training.
One program UNM plans to emphasize is student teaching, with the university hoping to expand the Bandelier Project. That collaboration between an Albuquerque elementary school and UNM places students alongside selected teachers, to learn by doing.
The school also plans to seek advice from the community to help craft changes (we think Santa Fe Superintendent Joel Boyd would have plenty to share, considering his work back East with education reform). Funding, too, is expected to come from the outside, from foundations and organizations that want better schools. It’s important to look at what works, too. Schools such as UCLA, for example, are basing teacher education on medical school models. Students earn a master’s degree on top of their undergraduate degree. Participants watch master teachers, write lesson plans and don’t begin teaching on their own without plenty of preparation.
So many times, committees issue reports, everyone nods in horror yet nothing changes. We like that this important legislative report has received the notice it deserves, and that UNM is responding. While the College of Education graduates but 15 percent of licensed K-12 teachers in New Mexico, it remains the largest in the state. By shouldering the burden of improving teacher training, UNM will set the example that other schools can follow. The best reform can be shared and implemented not just at UNM, but at New Mexico Highlands University or at Northern New Mexico College, affecting teachers across the state. This is an exciting initiative, one that we will be following with interest.