For nearly two decades, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has published research, analyses, and evaluations on various aspects of the teaching profession. Their Teacher Prep Reviews, arguably the most well-known aspect of their work, have evaluated and ranked over two thousand teacher training programs spanning undergraduate, graduate, and alternative offerings. Despite the fact that thousands of teaching candidates enroll in preparation programs each year, the vast majority of future teachers select a training program without knowing how well it will prepare them for the classroom. Given how hard teaching is, and how high the stakes are for students, this lack of data is alarming.

The fantastic staff at NCTQ decided to fill this gap by creating a guidebook for prospective teachers. To do so, NCTQ president Kate Walsh joined forces with Dan Brown, a National Board Certified Teacher who previously ran Educators Rising, a national network of more than 45,000 teenagers who are aspiring educators. They leverage the experience of teachers from Teach Plus, an organization that trains and empowers thousands of high-performing teachers to fill leadership and advocacy roles, to offer real-world examples and feedback about the teacher-training process.

The final product, Start Here to Become a Teacher, is nearly two hundred pages’ worth of detailed information about what it takes to become a great teacher and why picking the right preparation program matters. The page-one promise—to provide readers with “unique advice about teaching found nowhere else”—is not an empty one. This guidebook is the first of its kind, and it accomplishes its goal admirably. 

There are a few sections in particular that stand out. First is chapter two’s “Myths About Teaching: Responding to the Haters,” a laundry list of problematic assumptions that most teachers have heard at least once in their lifetime (this former teacher included). The straightforward rebuttals provided after each statement should be helpful for aspiring educators who may be hearing such things from their (probably well-intentioned) parents, professors, or friends.

Another standout is chapter three, “The Best Way to Become a Teacher.” While most “how to become a teacher” guides consider earning a bachelor’s degree in education from a four-year institution to be the premier option, this book recognizes that that there are plenty of other ways to get into the classroom. Readers are given an analyses of the pros, cons, and costs of all of these routes—not just the traditional undergraduate four-year experience, but also graduate schools, alternative programs, residencies, and online programs. A brief explainer on the availability of loans and loan-forgiveness programs for teachers is helpful, as is the chart listing the requirements each state has for entry into undergraduate programs.

In chapter four, the authors acknowledge that teachers earn about 17 percent less on average than other professions that require a comparable amount of education. That in and of itself isn’t groundbreaking information. Any aspiring teacher who saw coverage of the recent teacher walkouts on the news probably assumed as much. But the authors break the conversation down to a more practical level by providing a fifty-state breakdown of starting salaries in sample districts and the price of renting a one-bedroom apartment in that area. This is exactly the kind of real-life question that an aspiring teacher might have while deciding whether teaching makes economic sense. In fact, the nuanced way in which the authors handle the complex issue of teacher pay—including a user-friendly overview of how salary schedules work and how benefits for a typical public school teacher compare to those of a professional in the private sector—should prove critical for those weighing whether to pursue a teaching career.

But the real heart of this publication is the information about what makes a quality program and which programs meet those standards. The authors identify three key aspects of teaching—subject knowledge, professional knowledge, and practice—and then break down the content and skills teachers will need to learn to master each one. Like the earlier discussion on teacher pay, this analysis is a refreshingly honest depiction of a complicated reality. The authors don’t shy away from identifying areas where the majority of programs fall short, and they offer realistic suggestions for how aspiring teachers can fill in gaps on their own.

They also identify programs that are doing an excellent job of meeting what NCTQ has identified as markers of quality—things like a rigorous admissions process, training in classroom management, and high quality opportunities to practice teaching. Unlike the teacher prep reviews, however, this guidebook doesn’t just list programs’ grades on these standards. It also offers facts about the university or college and financial information about tuition, debt, and the typical salary of a new teacher in that state. Though not representative, some program overviews also include a statement from the dean and feedback from actual teaching candidates who are enrolled in the program.  

This guidebook offers aspiring teachers a thorough look under the hood of teacher preparation. So thorough, in fact, that it even covers the ineffable: the reasons why teachers choose to become teachers. That’s how you know this is the real deal.

SOURCE: Dan Brown, Rob Rickenbrode, and Kate Walsh, “Start Here to Become a Teacher,” NCTQ (March 2019).

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Jessica Poiner - Fordham

Jessica Poiner is a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked as a high school English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, she taught for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District. A native of Ohio, Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Baldwin-Wallace University. 

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