How can I train to become an effective teacher in spite of my program's low rating?

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One of the many individuals who has written in since we released the Teacher Prep Review on June 18th asked about what a prospective teacher candidate should do in the absence of a nearby highly-rated program:

Immediately upon reading about your new report about teacher education schools, I looked at the school I want to attend; when I saw the low rating it has for elementary school educators, I thought, 'what can I do to be an effective teacher in spite of that rating, what classes can I take, what books can I read?' I've wanted to be a teacher for over 40 years, since I tutored kids in high school, and now that I have the chance, for those of us who can't attend your most highly rated schools and want to be the best we can, what do you suggest?
-- Karen Isaacson

We address the issue of selecting among various programs on page 59 of our national report. If a prospective teacher candidate is in Ms. Isaacson's situation and has one particular institution already in mind, then the goal must be to maximize on training even if the program's requirements aren't sufficient.

Maximizing your content coursework

Every college or university offers the basic biology, physics and chemistry courses that an elementary teacher candidate should take regardless of whether even a single science course is required for general education or program requirements, or whether esoteric science electives such as forensic science or wildflower identification meet requirements. This may also be true of elementary math courses: they may be on offer, but not required. Take the initiative to find and take the courses that will prepare you to teach across the full elementary curriculum -- especially in an area you consider your weakest.

Getting reading instruction skills

Adequate early reading coursework may be harder to locate, but it might be found somewhere on campus even if it's not the coursework required for your program. For example, the courses required of special education teacher candidates might be superior to those required of elementary teacher candidates. Evaluate the extent to which coursework anywhere on campus is based on the science of reading by checking bookstore listings of required textbooks against our list of reading textbooks that are "adequate core" or "adequate supplemental." If no courses seem to fit the bill, on-line courses could be fall-backs.

Ensuring a strong student teaching experience

As for student teaching arrangements, if handbooks indicate that your university supervisor will be providing written feedback to you fewer than five times, why not ask for five observations? When you are provided with the name of your cooperating teacher, why not ask your field placement coordinator if the program has been provided with substantive information regarding the teacher's effectiveness as an instructor and skills at mentorship? If you and other teacher candidates advocate on your own behalves for the best possible student teaching placement, your program may respond positively.