By DAWN BILBREY
Level III Teacher
When I graduated from Eastern New Mexico University 18 years ago, I had no idea I was about to begin the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life completely unprepared.
I have now been an English and history teacher for 17 years. I have a secondary education degree and a master’s in education and I have nothing but great memories from the time I spent in my university’s hallowed halls. However, while I fully knew my content areas of English and history coming out of school and stepping into the classroom, I was not adequately prepared for the day-to-day, year-to-year details that make up the art that is teaching.
On my first day as a teacher, as I walked into my first classroom at Hobbs High School, I was confident I was ready to be everything my students needed and more. But even with my carefully planned lessons in hand, I had no realistic idea about what to expect. Thankfully, Mrs. Funk, a masterful teacher in my school, took me under her wing and helped me to understand what being a teacher really means. Had it not been for Mrs. Funk, I would never have learned the finesse of balancing the many teacher responsibilities that define my daily professional life. And while I am beyond grateful for her insight, wisdom, and guidance, I can’t help but feel that most of what she taught me during that first year should have been covered in my teacher preparation program.
I am now a level lll teacher with an exemplary rating on my teacher evaluation, but it has taken me almost two decades to master all the skills necessary to create sustained success for my students.
Teaching is hard work. It’s a delicate balance of knowledge, organization, discipline, and counseling skills that are not typically taught, but are learned in the grittiness of daily toil with colleagues, parents, administration, and most importantly, with students.
Recently, college teacher prep programs have been taking the heat for graduating students with degrees but with insufficient preparation to be successful on day one in their classroom. Teaching, like many other highly-skilled professions that deal with daily person-to- person interaction, requires practice and training in how to navigate those relationships. That responsibility should not be left until the very end of the learning program for teachers. Clinical hours and/or practicum hours where interaction with students, administrators, and parents is being fostered and mentored should happen early on and throughout the educational teacher training program to best ensure understanding, knowledge, and success.
Too many of brand-new teachers who enter K–12 classrooms across the nation aren’t adequately prepared and,any will teach the most at-risk students—with no clinical training in such a setting. New teachers need to be ready to teach students on their first day, whether they receive that preparation in higher education institutions or in alternative programs. The good news is that there’s a growing movement to improve the way teachers are prepared for professional practice, and how colleges are preparing their education majors for classroom readiness.
The New Mexico Public Education Department will soon give report cards to the state’s universities on their teacher preparation programs and rate their level of effectiveness. The universities will be scored each year in a variety of categories regarding teacher preparation for New Mexico’s newest educators.
This is an important step in the alignment of our state’s educational system. Now, much like the teachers and schools in our state, universities will have evaluation data to use in determining what supports and revisions are most needed to effectively create day-one- ready teachers. These measures will result in a larger group of new educators who will be better prepared to serve New Mexico students in the classroom. If we continue to improve our educational system, at every level, new teachers like me will never walk into a classroom unprepared and students will never receive less than the very best we have to offer. We owe it to ourselves and our students to expect nothing less.
Dawn Bilbrey teaches 8th grade ELA and US History at Texico Middle School. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.