TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Do teachers practice what their prep programs preached?

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Teachers often say that of all parts of their training, student teaching was the most valuable. This may leave their course instructors wondering: does everything they say go in one ear and out the other?

To explore that question, Anne K. Morris and James Hiebert at the University of Delaware examine whether teachers' lessons reflect what they were taught during training. It turns out teachers generally used what they had learned, especially when they spent more class time learning it.

Because all the math content courses at Delaware use the same detailed lesson plans and problem sets, the conditions were optimal for this experiment.

Several years after the teachers graduated and entered the classroom, they were asked to write lesson plans for some math topics covered in their teacher prep coursework as well as other topics that had not been covered. When planning lessons on topics they had learned about in their coursework, teachers' lesson plans included, on average, over half of the information they had been taught. On topics they had not encountered in coursework, graduates seemed to transfer some of what they had learned, creating lessons that included about a third of what was important.

The more times prep programs revisited a topic, the more teachers included that content in their lesson plans.

This study offers clear, actionable findings for prep programs everywhere:

  • The fact that teachers performed better when planning for specific topics they had learned about in training suggests that programs should require a methods course focused on a specific subject, rather than a general methods course that lightly touches on all subjects. Unfortunately, a quarter of secondary teacher prep programs don't offer such classes to all of their participants.
  • For teachers to remember and use what they learn, coursework should repeat and reinforce important topics throughout their programs.