Harvard Educational Review
  1. Inspiring Teaching

    Preparing Teachers to Succeed in Mission-Driven Schools

    Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Eran Tamir, and Karen Hammerness

    Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2014. 256 pp. $31.95 (paper)

    Teacher preparation has fallen under increased scrutiny as a number of scholars, policy makers, and influential institutions, like the National Council on Teacher Quality, have questioned its efficacy and quality. Further, the U.S. Secretary of Education has called for new regulations and evaluations for all programs. However, one of the issues in evaluating teacher preparation programs is a lack of rich, systematic, and rigorous research on these programs overall. Leaders in the fields like Cochran-Smith and Zeichner (2005) insist that “research on teacher education programs needs to describe the characteristics that teachers bring to their programs, the opportunities for learning that the programs provide and what teachers learn from these opportunities, the institutional and state policy contexts in which programs are embedded, and the characteristics of the schools where program graduates teach” (p. 30). In Inspiring Teaching: Preparing Teachers to Succeed in Mission-Driven Schools, editors Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Eran Tamir, and Karen Hammerness attempt to respond to this demand by assembling various accounts of three unique teacher preparation programs and their graduates. The collection of work in this volume demonstrates how these programs “prepare teachers for particu-lar school contexts, the extent to which schools support teachers in developing their practice, and how teachers negotiate the challenges of their work” (p. 4).

    The volume comprises an introduction, eight chapters, and a conclusion; each chapter is authored by one or more of the three editors and/or one of four additional contributors, all of whom have some affiliation with a teacher education program or university. The book focuses on three unique teacher education programs: the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) at the University of Chicago, the Alliance for Catholic Education Service Through Teaching Program (ACE) at University of Notre Dame, and the Day School Leadership Through Teaching Program (DeLeT) at Brandeis University. Data used in this book originate from the Choosing to Teach Study, which explored the ways “teacher education programs and school contexts interact with teachers’ backgrounds to shape their identities, practices, and career commitments” (p. 5). For this study, researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with program staff, teachers from each program, and the school principals who hired program graduates. Data collection also included classroom observations of teachers in the program and document analysis of program materials. In its purposeful triangulation of multiple data sources and the careful longitudinal design, the research featured in this book appears to be quite rigorous when compared to much of the existing research on teacher education.

    The book begins with a chapter on each teacher education program. As the authors of the chapters make clear, each of these programs is distinct in its vision, contextual focus, and program structure. However, they are all similarly driven by a particular mission to serve students in a very specific context. In addition, each program is housed in a university but structured more like a practice-based residency (UTEP and DeLeT) or alternative fast-track program (ACE). While these initial chapters offer measured accounts of the three different programs, the analysis of follow-up data from program graduates that occurs in further chapters—focused on teacher agency and identity, program vision, principles in practice, school culture and leadership, support for new teachers, and teacher retention—offers more nuance.

    Chapters 4–6 provide comparative analyses across the programs and their graduates as they moved from their preparation programs into school sites. For example, chapter 5, by Hammerness, considers the alignment between overall vision and program design at each of the three sites. Each of the programs promoted a vision inspired by either religion or social justice ideology to guide teacher work in particular contexts. However, Hammerness finds that DeLeT and UTEP promoted more specific, well-developed, practice-focused visions that emphasized the development of professional teaching identity, while ACE’s vision was less clear and cohesive. She notes that this likely has implications for teacher practice. In chapter 6, Tamir and Hammerness draw on a small sample of graduates from each program five to seven years into classroom practice to explore how each program affected teacher practice. They find that graduates—especially those from UTEP and DeLeT—enacted their program’s vision in meaningful ways in the classroom. This leads the authors to conclude that “some types of teacher preparation can have a significant, positive impact on teachers’ practice long after graduation” (p. 146).

    Chapters 7 and 8 focus on the factors that influence teacher retention and sustainability in particular school environments. Drawing on the data from program graduates, Tamir concludes that effective mentoring, meaningful collaboration with peers, and support from administrators appear to be quite influential in a teacher’s decision to remain at a particular school or in the profession as a whole; this finding underscores much of the scholarship on teacher retention. However, Tamir also notes that some teachers—particularly those from UTEP—remained in challenging circumstances with limited support garnered purely out of commitment to their students. This personal commitment appears to have been reinforced by the UTEP and DeLeT programs, which explicitly helped teachers develop a more profound understanding of themselves, their students, and the specific social and neighborhood context surrounding their schools. Conversely, Tamir notes that while the ACE program focused a great deal on developing personal and spiritual awareness, it might not have sufficiently prepared “culturally responsive teachers” (p. 186) for the low-income students of color they sought to serve. Drawing on this finding, Tamir implies that if not adequately prepared to teach students across cultural differences, teachers in low-income urban settings might switch schools or leave the profession altogether.

    Drawing on the findings of the book’s previous chapters, the conclusion, authored by Feiman-Nemser, emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and specific preparation in “the nested contexts of teaching” (p. 201), meaning the local community, the school district, the school, and the classroom. Moreover, she acknowledges that such preparation likely requires a program design that is aligned with a practice-oriented vision and that provides ample time for novice teachers to practice teaching in supportive environments. Thus, it follows that UTEP and DeLeT, the two programs which offered extended residencies or internships in coordination with aligned coursework and programmatic support, fostered greater teacher efficacy and retention than ACE, which offered a more condensed summer preparation program.

    By profiling three different mission-driven teacher preparation programs, focusing on graduates from each program, and returning to these graduates years after completing their programs, this book largely succeeds in its mission of exploring the interaction between teachers, teacher preparation programs, and particular school contexts. However, the first three chapters would have benefited from richer and more critical descriptive accounts of the coursework and activities of each program, thereby providing the reader with a more holistic sense of experiences in each program. Similarly, some of the comparisons across the three programs are arguably more complex than presented in the text. For example, UTEP’s commitment to “social justice” might not be truly analogous to the religious missions of the other two programs, as the authors seem to suggest by establishing this three-way comparison.

    Nonetheless, together the chapters in this volume convincingly argue that thoughtful teacher education has lasting and visible impacts on teacher practice. This is a critical point, as it provides a counterargument to the rhetoric that largely frames teacher education as a weak intervention (Richardson, 1996). As Feiman-Nemser asserts in the introduction, “While school conditions often trump teacher preparation, programs that link broad social mission and a vision of teaching with contextualized teaching practices can play a critical role in preparing and retaining strong teachers for hard-to-staff schools” (p. 15). Overall, through its rigorous methods and nuanced findings, Inspiring Teaching reinforces the importance of “longitudinal, comparative, qualitative research” (p. 208) in understanding and evaluating teacher preparation programs.
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    References
    Cochran-Smith, M., & Zeichner, K. M. (2005). Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula, T. Buttery, & E. Guyton (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: A project of the Association of Teacher Educators (Vol. 2, pp. 102–119). New York: Macmillan Library Reference.
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    Abstracts

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    The Logic and Leverage of Epistemic Communities
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    Moral Injury and the Ethics of Educational Injustice
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    Geographies of Indigenous Leaders
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    Doing and Teaching Disciplinary Literacy with Adolescent Learners
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    Book Notes

    How to Innovate
    Mary Moss Brown and Alisa Berger

    Inspiring Teaching
    Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Eran Tamir, and Karen Hammerness