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Volume 18, Number 5
September/October 2002

Arming New Teachers with Survival Skills

A conversation with Katherine K. Merseth about teacher education


Last year, Katherine K. Merseth returned to directing the Teacher Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a program she founded in 1983. Her charge: to redesign the curriculum to train teachers to work in urban schools in an era of standards-based reform and tougher accountability for teachers. She spoke with the Harvard Education Letter about training a new generation of teachers.

How can teacher ed programs make the profession more appealing?

We need to find more ways to emphasize leadership and arm new teachers with the skills to become change agents. Simply putting well-trained, competent teachers in dysfunctional schools is a recipe for disaster. Fifty percent leave in five years, and everybody scratches their heads and wonders why. Money is important, but it’s not the reason that people leave. They come into the profession believing that they can make a real difference, but the bureaucratic obstacles they face seem insurmountable.

What are some survival skills new teachers need?

Teachers must reflect on their practice and make that a habit. Teacher research is important if they are to really understand the situations they’re in. Also, they need to understand school reform strategies—what’s been tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what could work in the future. By doing so, they will begin to understand why they’re making progress on a problem—or not. And, of course, teachers have to become effective pedagogues with a whole repertoire of skills.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.