A Guide to Discussing Teacher Prep

Here at TNTP we like to celebrate milestones, but this one sneaked up on us. 

Fast Start, our account of how we transformed our training model for novice teachers, was released six months ago. In that time, we’ve had a lot of conversations about teacher preparation: We’ve shared the report with state officials in Maryland, Arizona and Florida and with district partners in Washington, D.C., Louisiana and Chicago, among many others. We presented at conferences on teacher preparation, and opened Fast Start training sessions to visitors from across the country who wanted to see the program in action.

We don’t pretend to have figured out a magic formula for preparing teachers to be successful in the classroom. Fast Start continues to be a work in progress, as we learn more about what works well and what doesn’t. But the discussions we’ve had in the last six months have been rich and challenging ones—and that’s basically why we wrote the report in the first place. Too often the national conversation about teacher preparation focuses on the edges of the work: the number of credit hours needed, the nitty-gritty of licensure exams, the details of application requirements for teaching candidates. Engaging in real conversations about what it takes to prepare teachers well—and facing up to the fact that some of our longstanding approaches just aren’t good enough and need to be completely turned on their heads—can be tough. But those honest discussions are critically important for all of us who are invested in this work.

Today, we'd like to share some of the big lessons so far:

The Fast Start approach isn't just about pre-service training.

We’ve been surprised by how the principles of Fast Start (focus on a handful of key skills, more time for teachers to practice and more actionable feedback for teachers) resonate not only with those who prepare teachers, but also with school leaders and their instructional teams. Since school leaders are closest to new teachers as they start out their years, it’s encouraging to see how our work on teacher training can align with the day-to-day work of developing teachers within the school. Just like our coaches, school leaders across the country are asking themselves questions like: Are my novice teachers on track for a successful first year? What skills do they need the most support in? What role do I play to helping them get the practice and feedback they need to improve?

Focusing on key skills is harder than it sounds.

Focus turns out to be quite controversial. It requires choices. Fast Start prioritizes some skills ahead of others. But for some, the idea of prioritizing and sequencing skills seems flawed: When new teachers need so much, how can we hold back? For others, the idea of focusing on a handful of core skills first seems reasonable, but the act of focusing—actually cutting out, or at least postponing, some skills—is hard to do. 

While we remain convinced that thoughtful prioritization of skills is critical to setting up new teachers for success—and our results support that—prioritizing is hard work. In the conversations we’ve had with teacher preparation leaders across the country, it’s clear that truly focusing demands real discipline. The truth of the matter is that adding one more component to an already loaded syllabus is much less controversial than pressing for focus and coherence in a teacher’s preparation experience.

We must continue to evolve the Fast Start model.

This summer was the third year of Fast Start in action. And like every summer before, we learned a lot. We implemented a new observation tool for our pre-service teachers, piloted a new set of sessions for Special Educators, and developed a new blended instructional course for literacy and math keenly focused on the Common Core. 

Already we’re looking at the data and asking what’s working and what’s not. How do we make the Fast Start model even better? Conversations with others who are engaged in this work will help us continue to evolve. To facilitate more conversations like these, we’ve created a new resource to support others in sharing and talking about the principles of Fast Start, and about new approaches to teacher preparation in general.

Now available for download, this discussion guide is just a jumping off point—some questions to jumpstart conversations about innovations in teacher preparation. We hope those discussions will push others to think outside the teacher preparation box, too—just as they’re pushing us to keep doing so.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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