Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants

Steve C. Good

Department of Geology & Astronomy
West Chester University
West Chester, Pennsylvania

West Chester University (WCU) is the second largest (12,500 students) of the PA State System of Higher Education (SSHE) with a service area that ranges from urban Philadelphia to affluent suburbs to very rural areas. WCU is a regional comprehensive university located about 25 miles west of Philadelphia. About a third of WCU students are in teacher preparation programs, making WCU the largest trainer of teachers in the state of PA. The Department of Geology & Astronomy (G&A) maintains approximately 75 majors subequally divided between the BS and BSEd programs. Graduate employment prospects are excellent (environmental consulting industry is thriving, and regional demographics project school population growth and demand for teachers to continue for foreseeable future).

Recent Challenges
Teacher preparation has multiple challenges, with mandates for change coming from all "stakeholders".

Student and Parent Mandate
The vocationalization of higher education is most strongly pronounced at public colleges & universities. Simply put, our students and their parents want our graduates to get jobs, and that their education should be highly focused on developing those skills needed for the workplace.

SSHE & University Mandates
WCU shares similar challenges to state universities across the nation: legislature mandates to:

  • increase productivity (increase class size with teaching loads at 24 contact hours per year; elimination of low enrollment programs),
  • improve accountability: develop and implement comprehensive assessment plans that employ multiple instruments, and earn external accreditations for programs),
  • improve efficiency (SSHE Board of Governors have mandated that all Baccalaureate degrees programs be no more than 120 credit hours).

External Mandates
State government has forced changes in PA Department of Education (PDE) teacher preparation requirements (GPA of 3.0+, identical content requirements for BSEd as BS, post-graduation mentoring, etc.). Federal government has forced changes (NCLB-national report card, teacher certification flexible & accelerated yet "highly qualified", etc.).

SUMMARY: I feel that I am spending more time proving that I am doing my job than actually doing my job.

WCU Department of Geology and Astronomy Response
Our department response was to establish uniform cores to all baccalaureate programs to facilitate career flexibility for our students and to maximize enrollments in our majors courses. A second objective was to establish equitable distribution of required courses among our ten faculty members. The new program is approved and will begin Fall, 2003.

Our department reduced our BSEd program from 135 credits to 120 credits, and our BS program from about 130 credits to 120 credits. This was accomplished by redistributing credits from a mixture of 3 & 4 credit to uniform 3 credits, and in the BS program by reducing the required associated science and math coursework (while strongly advising our students to take more associated science and math courses).

Our department has reduced our number of BS tracks from three (Geology, Environmental Geology, and Earth Systems) to two (Geology & Earth Systems); and BSEd tracks from three (Astronomy, Geology, and Environmental Geology) to one track (Earth & Space Science). We have defined a core of 10 courses that both the BS and BSEd students will complete, which provide the core preparation for ASBOG "Fundamentals of Geology" exam for Professional Geologist Certification. The BS Earth Systems and BSEd programs require an additional 3 courses (Astronomy, Meteorology, Oceanography), since these courses are required as preparation for the Praxis Earth and Space Science Content Knowledge exam and by the PDE teacher preparation standards.

Future Challenges: With our BSEd program at 120 credits, it is efficient. However, it may be too efficient for NCATE (and its required folio that must approved by NSTA ... not to mention when will I have time to produce that folio).

Steve Good's Thoughts on Critical Contributions:

1. Recruiting, mentoring, advising future teachers
Issues and roles of Geosci. Dept
  • Career awareness is critical since few students arrive at college wanting to become a geologist or earth science teacher.
    • Most departments rely on their general education science course to recruit majors (more below)
    • Develop coordination with feeder community colleges and school districts in the area (after all many of their teachers will be alumni). Good local earth science teachers can serve as your "farm leagues" and send their talented students to your program.
    • Retention has proven a challenge, with some very capable future geologists driven from the major by math and associated science cognates (where the teaching philosophy is more focused on elimination of the unfit, than welcoming of diverse learning styles/intelligences). I prefer that our department flunk students out of our program on the basis of their lack of knowledge, skills and dispositions to be a geoscientist; and not let the math, chemistry and physics departments identify who may become a geologist/earth science teacher.
    • My undergrad mentor told me that "the best geologist is the person who has seen the most rocks" and so my undergrad program had extensive field experiences. For future teachers these field experiences are informal and/or in informal settings. Our program strives to provide opportunities for future teachers to interact with middle and high school students and teachers throughout their college academic career.
    • Facilitate student-student interactions for building community among our majors.
Effective Activities within geosci depts.
  • Careers in the Geosciences annual workshop with alumni presenters (teacher, goverment geologist, consulting geologist) describing their job, salaries, professional development, etc.
  • Coordinated series of informal and formal field experiences (working with K-12 students).
  • Geology field trips are crucial tools for recruitment and retention.
  • We provide a student room and a dept computer lab. These have become centers for community building among our majors
2. Role of Introductory courses in teacher preparation
Issues and roles of Geosci. Dept
  • Serve as the foundation course to the major and recruitment opportunity.
  • Collaborative integrated science for future elementary teachers (with mixed success).
Effective Activities within geosci depts.
  • Our department strives to model best practices in teaching in our gen eral education science courses (effective use of technology, hands-on science, cooperative learning, use of controversial topics, shamelessly recruiting using earth science career awareness, fieldtrips where possible).
  • Majors serve as tutors to Intro Geology students who seek extra help (benefiting all).
3. Research & teaching experiences for future teachers
Issues and roles of Geosci. Dept
  • Coordinated, longitudinal field experiences are required by PDE and NCATE; that will provide a scaffolding development of skills that will be "field-tested" in the student teaching experience.
  • Our department also provides opportunities for students to participate in faculty research, a few students have participated in REU programs.
  • We strongly recommend internships for BS students (to work with state geologic surveys, environmental consulting companies, and these are available to future teachers also
Effective Activities within geosci depts.
  • Field components in all education courses (typically 3-6 hours in first 4 education courses, and 18 hours in last two education courses, then 15 weeks of student teaching).
  • Additional opportunities include working with Science Olympiad teams from local school districts, environmental education groups (John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, Valley Forge National Park, Brandywine Valley Association, etc).
  • Past BSEd students (currently teachers) have participated on paleontology research and education research (lesson assessors for EarthComm, ESS State Standards project, etc).
4. Links between education and geoscience departments
Issues and roles of Geology Dept
  • Links and collaboration are critical; however, in times of limited resources the power struggles can be destructive.
  • Where is the BSEd major in Earth & Space Science housed ... in Geoscience Department or in School of Education.
Effective Activities within geosci depts.
  • University governance structure is critical to defining roles of Geoscience Dept and Education Dept. Geoscience department faculty should seek opportunities for service on such committees.
  • Just before my arrival at WCU, the power struggle shifted supervision of secondary student teachers from the school of education to the content area departments.
  • At WCU, there is currently a conflict between the College of Arts and Science and the School of education that has resulted from the 120 credit mandate from SSHE. We requested the school of education to make a 10% reduction in the Education credits for certification (from 33 to 30 credits), following a 10% credit reduction we had made to the credits from our college. They did not comply, which forced our department to identify one of their courses for elimination (this has caused some political problems).
  • Future Earth and Space Science teachers are majors in our department. It seems that at most larger and smaller schools, the BSEd majors are placed in the Education school/department relegating them to essentially a "minor" role in the Geoscience Department. Colleagues at research universities have lamented their number of undergrad majors has declined and that they are under pressure to increase those numbers. Yet when I suggest they take responsibility for the Earth & Space Science teacher preparation program (because while BS enrollments boom and bust with the geology job market, the BSEd job market is constant), they seem distinctly uninterested in training future teachers.
5. Supporting alumni in the teaching profession
Issues and roles of Geosci. Dept
  • PA Act 48, and NCATE standards require teacher preparation universities to participate and assist our alumni in their first year or two of teaching (induction program).
  • Alumni teaching in the area are potential candidates for a graduate program, or professional development opportunities for teachers
  • Alumni teaching in the area can assist by providing field observation placements, and can serve as cooperating teachers.
Effective Activities within geosci depts.
  • Maintain or establish a graduate program or courses for teachers in your area (teachers need the degrees to progress on their pay scales, and most districts will pay their tuition), but your department will have to teach evenings and summers.
  • Seek mutually beneficial relationships (Science Olympiad, tutoring, etc.)
  • Maintain contact with alumni teachers in the area who can serve as cooperating teachers. This is one of the greatest benefits to my job ... I may see former BS students once every few years, but I get to work throughout my career with my former students as they become cooperating teachers and we collaborate in the training of future teachers.