Interview with Alice Huang: Re-examining Teacher Education

May 5, 2008 |   | Contact: M. Daniel DeCillis

Teachers of all kinds are a dwindling resource throughout the country, and states need to re-examine their strategies regarding math and science requirements and standards, according to CCST Council Member Alice Huang, Senior Faculty Associate at the California Institute for Technology.

“There are many reasons why it’s hard to get and keep good teachers,” said Huang. “Low pay, lack of support from administrators, and lack of continuing intellectual development are just some of the reasons documented by CCST and other organizations. Addressing these issues will require several approaches, including the depoliticizing of the public school system at the state level.” Huang’s interest is typical of many at California’s top research institutions traditionally known more for the quality of their research and academic programs, such as Caltech, than for a focus on K-12 education.

“Over the years several faculty members have devised curricula directed at the K-12 population,” said Huang. “We are not alone in devising what has been called ‘hands on’ science teaching. However, not all teachers are well versed in this approach; the problem isn’t so much the curriculum as it is in retraining teachers along the way. Caltech’s efforts have made me consider the possibility of getting it right the first time, when teachers are undergoing initial training, rather than getting it while they are trying to fulfill their job expectations.”

To this end, Huang and CCST Fellow Henry Riggs, President Emeritus of the Keck Graduate Institute, have been considering new models for a teacher education program.

“As university educators we understand higher education and its curricula, and we can devise the best teacher education curriculum possible,” said Huang. “We are looking at a model that should prepare future teachers for any locale or institution, including those in urban inner city environments. We want to focus on pre-service teachers, and not get side-tracked by devising alternative training for those switching from other professions. We’ll need broad input from a variety of individuals with backgrounds in education, not to mention the master teachers in Cal TAC.”

Although Huang and Riggs are at an early stage of their discussions, she is convinced that the model they are working on will be important for teacher education.

“Many teachers are not well prepared in their core subject matter and don’t get the practical tools they need in traditional programs,” said Huang. “If we succeed with developing our model, then we can do our best to get an institution or state to buy into the program.”

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