KU News Service

Professor researching how English teachers are educated

Fri, 04/11/2014

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas education professor is co-authoring the first study in nearly 20 years of how America’s English teachers are educated. The study will gauge how institutions across the country prepare English teachers, when and how they address certain topics, where in the university the programs fall and how local and state influences affect the programs.

Heidi Hallman, associate professor of curriculum and teaching, was part of a team that surveyed more than 250 public and private colleges and universities across the nation to learn more about how they prepare English teachers. They are using a grant from the National Council of Teachers of English to analyze the findings. The authors will present their research at the American Educational Research Association Conference this month.

The survey is the first since 1995 to address how English teachers are educated. Since then much has changed in the educational landscape.

“We want to find out where teachers learn about certain topics,” Hallman said. “Is it in the methods class? Is it out in the field with their mentors? This could give new insight to where the knowledge is initiated. We hope some of the trends we find could be used as a prototype by other subject areas.”

The survey respondents answered general questions about what is being taught in the methods classroom, how the courses fit in with larger programs in English and education, and how teacher candidates are prepared to teach in each program. The researchers also are analyzing syllabi for courses to determine how the topics are addressed.

When the last survey was conducted in 1995, the default setting for English teacher preparation was a baccalaureate program resulting in a degree and certification. While that is still the primary structure, it is far from the only one, as many programs have either a post-baccalaureate, master’s or alternative programs. Only 25 percent of programs have only one program leading to certification, the authors noted.

Hallman and her colleagues will also address whether changing demographics in the education landscape have influenced English teacher preparation. For example, they will seek out whether programs are incorporating English language-learner preparation in their programs, and if so, which types of institutions include it.

The authors also asked respondents where their respective programs are housed. Some are within schools of education; others are in English departments or other areas.

Respondents were asked what sort of changes they’ve seen in their programs over the years and how they’ve responded. The surveyors hope get a picture of what led to the changes, be it university policy, state legislation or other factors, and whether certain types of institutions have adapted to change better than others. Teacher preparation also takes place largely outside of a classroom. Survey respondents were asked how much time their candidates spend student teaching or working in the field in other ways. Requirements vary widely from state to state and institution to institution, thus leading the researchers to attempt to gain a better understanding of differences among programs.

Hallman said she and her colleagues will present their preliminary findings in April, and they hope to conduct focus groups with respondents in the coming year to gain a deeper understanding of the state of English teacher preparation. After that they plan to produce a book containing their findings in the next year. The ultimate goal is to help produce evidence on the most sound practices in English teacher preparation that can help serve as a guide for policy and legislation in the field.

“We’re hoping this can propel us as a field to see English teacher preparation in a 21st century way,” Hallman said. “Topics such as working with diverse student populations, addressing changing standards, and other areas have changed in the 20 years since this study was last done. Hopefully this empirical evidence can help back up effective change.”

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