(September 27, 2006) Over 75 Illinois State teacher education faculty and staff, education leaders from partnership school districts, currently practicing teachers, current student teachers, and professional development school interns met at the Bone Student Center, on the campus of Illinois State University, to discuss perspectives on urban teacher preparation.

After a welcome message by College of Education Dean, Deborah Curtis, a panel of urban teachers discussed ways in which Illinois State has prepared them for teaching in urban schools as well as ways in which they were unprepared. The panel commented that they felt well prepared in terms of content, but less prepared to teach in an inclusive classroom with special education learners and in classroom leadership to support behavior management approaches.

Panelists provided specific suggestions to the teacher education community at Illinois State, including addressing language and communications barriers and providing longer-term opportunities to experience urban school settings earlier in the teacher preparation program for teacher candidates. “Just being there is what our students are saying they need,” says Alison Nelson, coordinating English teacher at Peoria High School PDS program.

Thomas Eder, principal of Normal Community West High School (NCWHS), provided reflections on the panel discussion. Eder noted that the student population at NCWHS is changing, with approximately 24 percent low-income and 13-14 percent African-American students in the district. Eder suggests one strategy to address the needs of the current school population is to provide more support for the “undergraduate experience” by developing a 5th-year academy where teacher candidates can participate in extended learning opportunities at critical time signatures immediately following student teaching.

The meeting ended with a focused discussion on the panelists’ presentations followed by a plenary session with comments and discussions on potential short- and long-term strategies to address the identified gaps.

More information on the Urban Teacher Preparation initiative, including ways to get involved, can be found at the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline Web site or in the Urban Teacher Preparation Packet.