Ask first-year teachers what their greatest challenge is, and they are likely to say it has been managing squirming elementary students or keeping sleepy teenagers engaged.
But too few universities that train the next generation of teachers are giving them a foundation in effective classroom management techniques, according to a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research advocacy group, which highlighted St. Mary's College of Maryland as one of the best in the nation.
"They face nightmare issues of just classroom order," said Arthur McKee, managing director of the council's teacher preparation studies.
Decades of research have shown what works in the classroom. If teacher preparation programs taught what worked and gave future teachers a chance to practice, the first-year headaches could be reduced to a minimum, McKee said.
But that isn't what has happened around the country, according to the study, which looked at 118 university programs and graded them on five strategies they believe teachers should use, from how to establish rules and routines in a classroom to how to deal with misbehavior.
The study found that only 16 percent of colleges and universities are teaching all of the five strategies and many of the strategies are scattered throughout the curriculum rather than being presented in a focused way. In addition, the teacher prep programs are less likely to impart strategies that require teachers to reinforce positive behavior and give consistent consequences for misbehavior in the classroom.
The so-called big five list was put together by the council after it looked at numerous scholarly works on what management strategies have proven successful in the classroom, according to McKee.
In addition to St. Mary's College, the council highlighted two other teacher preparation programs that are working well: the University of Virginia and the University of Washington, Seattle. St. Mary's was the only Maryland university or college included in the study.
The University of Washington's teacher preparation program got high marks for putting an emphasis on having students practice in nearby classrooms what they learn from their courses, according to Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education. Only a third of the university programs studied by the council gave teacher candidates an opportunity to practice in the field and get feedback.
Stritikus said how well they do in their courses is not based just on their academic work but also on whether they can successfully use what they have learned.
"Classroom management and the intellectual work of classrooms have to be integrated if schooling is going to maximize student potential," Stritikus said. "Our teacher preparation program is very performance- and practice-oriented, and our [classroom] management course grows out of that orientation."
St. Mary's College declined to answer questions about its program.
Arminta Stanfield, a media and marketing specialist at St. Mary's College, wrote in an email that the college "cannot account for the methodologies/criteria used for the report."
The council issued a report in June that was highly critical of teacher preparation programs in universities and colleges across the nation. The report looked at education programs at more than 1,000 universities and colleges in all 50 states and found that many didn't teach enough content, didn't give teachers high-quality student teaching experiences and didn't give elementary teachers preparation to teach reading well.
When looking at classroom management, McKee said, the council pulled data from the review. The nonprofit decided not to rate schools.
"Instead, we are calling on the field to take a strong look at itself," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun