Many programs use a high number of adjunct faculty to teach academic courses. These individuals are often disconnected from the core mission of the teacher education program. Therefore, course experiences feel like two worlds – one at the university and one in the field. A well integrated program reflects an intense commitment by tenured faculty to teacher preparation. A faculty’s ongoing dialogue which connects what you learn or practice in the university classroom to what you do in the k-12 classrooms yields the most optimal experience. An added bonus is one where university faculty also supervise field. When faculty members see what their students do in the field – the very students they teach or have taught the previous semester – then theory becomes even more connected to practice. This kind of university-field connection is rare in teacher preparation programs.
One way a teacher preparation program can save money is by subcontracting field supervision to individuals who have little or no daily involvement with the program at the university. While these field supervisors may have administrative or teaching experience, they have little detailed knowledge of what goes on in the program. They also may not be subject to the same kind of rigorous evaluation that occurs at the university. Faculty and supervisors whose performance is regularly evaluated by the department and the university for high quality teaching and ongoing professional development is something that should not be overlooked when you are considering a teacher preparation program. A strong, experienced field supervisor is critical to your success in the classroom.
It is one thing to get a certificate in teaching. It’s another thing to get a job. If the program does not have a recognized record of employing its graduates, then your certificate – not to mention the time you spent getting it – isn’t worth much. Look closely at the program’s track record. How many of their graduates get jobs? What kind of jobs did they get? Does the teacher preparation program even help their students find employment, particularly once they have graduated? And finally, what kind of relationship do they maintain with their graduates?
We have already mentioned the issue of high quality supervision. Another consideration is the range of experience. Some programs put students in only one field placement throughout their time in the program. A range of field experiences is vital to your growth as a professional. It is not only important that you have experience with different grades levels, but also with different kinds of k-12 students. While you may think that you just want to teach a particular grade level, you may change your mind. Many students do this. And once you are ready to look for a job, your varied experience in schools can be an important factor for a potential employer.
Some programs simply place students in the field as quickly and as efficiently as they can. They do not take into account the student’s personality and his or her potential fit with a mentor teacher. Yet this kind of bond is essential to success in student teaching. Furthermore, it’s a great help if you can do your student teaching in a geographical area close to where you live. Does the program that you are interested in make these kinds of accommodations?
Some programs try to disguise their overall costs by presenting the cost of an individual credit or unit. Be sure to do the multiplication and ask about the total cost of the program. Furthermore, make sure you ask about university fees in addition to the tuition costs. Public universities often add fees each semester on top of the cost of tuition, and this is not something that you become aware of until you are enrolled in the program.
It may be appealing to get a certificate first, then a job, and then a masters degree. There are two problems with this approach. First, it takes you far more time to get the masters degree than you may have anticipated. Working at a new teaching job and taking night courses is a challenge for anyone. Second, and most importantly, is what is called opportunity cost. By not getting the masters degree as part of your teacher preparation program, you start lower on the pay scale. Having a masters degree can mean as much as $6,000 a year more in income. If you get a teaching job and then take two years to get the masters degree, that’s $12,000 in lost income that you cannot make up. It is much more cost-effective, even in the short run, to get a masters degree along with the certification.