Teaching synchronous-service teachers: Traditional teacher education at a crossroads

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Teachers College Record






Background/Context: Teachers enrolled in alternative training and licensure programs may have experiences that lie outside what is considered typical for both preservice teachers and in-service teachers. This article explores the experiences of a growing cadre of "synchronous-service teachers" – including, but not limited to, Teach For America (TFA) corps members – who are teaching full time while also completing coursework in teacher preparation programs. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of the Study: This study considers how synchronous-service teachers perceived the education and training they received while enrolled in traditional teacher education coursework, as well as how they interpreted their broader interactions with the teaching profession and teacher education writ large. Research Setting and Participants: This research was conducted in the Midwestern United States in a major metropolitan area with a TFA regional presence. Thirty-six corps members who completed coursework at a traditional teacher education institution opted to participate in this study. They were primarily White and female, and most entered TFA immediately following completion of their undergraduate degrees. The majority had little previous exposure to the education discipline. Research Design: The thirty-six corps members were interviewed about their experiences while participating in TFA, teaching at their schools, and, especially pertinent to this article, learning at a partner university where TFA corps members in the region completed teacher education coursework. Findings/Results: The findings suggest that corps members held primarily negative views about the teacher education coursework they experienced. They complained that the teacher education programming failed to provide immediately applicable insights and lacked rigor and relevance. Yet they also maintained paradoxical expectations about what teacher education, particularly for synchronous-service teachers, should or should not entail. Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes by suggesting the potential utility of synchronous-service teachers as a conceptual category, noting that these teachers should be considered distinct from others. As such, providing synchronous-service teachers with teacher education programming designed for either preservice or in-service teachers may lead to missed opportunities in terms of professional learning and exacerbate negative sentiments about teacher education. The experiences and opinions of synchronous-service teachers can have considerable significance, particularly when these teachers go on to affect education leadership and policy. In sum, teacher education institutions are at a critical crossroads concerning how and whether to proceed with similar partnerships, especially as alternative recruitment and training programs continue to grow in the United States and beyond.

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