Choosing a college is a big decision, one that can cause plenty of stress and confusion for high school seniors. For those considering a career in teaching, choosing the right college is essential to ensuring you have the skills and training to succeed in the classroom. Doing your homework may seem like a chore now, but it's an important step in finding the right fit for you.
A good place to start is our site: Path to Teach, which reviews teacher preparation programs regularly and releases its findings. Eventually however, you'll likely want to visit these institutions - or pick up the phone if a college visit isn't feasible. Like many students, I was overwhelmed during my college visits and didn't ask the questions I should have. Luckily, I ended up at a school with a wonderful teacher preparation program, but I didn't know that at the time. Looking back, here are the three things I would've asked my college's education department before I committed to enrolling.
Can I Observe A Class?
It isn't uncommon for an admissions office to have students observe classes as part of a tour. However, secondary education candidates may find themselves in content courses like Biology or English. When arranging the visit, specifically request an education class. While there, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- How is the class structured? Are professors doing all of the talking, or are the students actively engaged?
- Does the lesson address ideas and situations the students will face in the classroom?
- Do the students seem to care about teaching? Do they take the class seriously?
- Do the students reference experiences they've had while observing/teaching in real classrooms, or is everything theoretical?
Will I Get Real Classroom Experience BEFORE Student Teaching?
I can't stress enough how important getting into real classrooms is for your development as a teacher. It allows you to put coursework into context, ask questions of teachers in the field, and teach in a realistic setting. If your first 'real' teaching experience will be student teaching, it might be wise to look for a school more committed to partnering with local communities for all four years of your education. When talking with an education department representative, consider bringing up the following topics:
- How often will I get to visit real classrooms throughout my years with your school?
- As I progress through the program, will I have opportunities to write and teach lessons under supervision in addition to observing?
- Will I have the opportunity to work with multiple types of schools - urban, suburban, and rural - to allow me to explore what kind of school I'd like to work in? If not, do you have off campus programs or internships I could participate in to get such experiences?
How Does The Department Support Students While Student Teaching?
Student teaching is the culmination of a teaching candidate's educational experience. Not only are student teachers effectively working full-time, but they're also going through their state's steps to achieve licensure. Because it's so important, asking a few pointed questions about student teaching is a good idea. Consider discussing some of the following with a member of the education department:
- When do your students typically get assigned to a placement? Do they have a chance to express preferences for where they're placed?
- How does the department support students throughout student teaching to ensure they succeed?
- If you've done your research on what tests/assessments your state requires to obtain licensure, ask how specifically the school would help you prepare for those assessments.
At the end of the day, picking the right college is an intensely personal decision, one governed by a wide variety of factors that you can't always control. However, it's important to make the most of your contact with admissions staff, education department faculty, and current students. Not only are you showing that you're ready for the academic and professional rigor demanded of teaching, but you'll also be able to make the most informed decision about which teacher preparation program is right for you.