Lake Forest College has been preparing teachers for the public schools since its founding in 1857. The history and mission of the college support quality teacher preparation. As is the case in the small liberal arts college tradition, teacher preparation is valued intrinsically as teaching is the primary mission of faculty at this type of institution. Collaboration and close contact among members of the faculty across departments and divisions at Lake Forest College provides a fully integrated program of study for teacher candidates. Program development, policy initiatives, and final candidate approval and assessment occur through a committee with representation from departments across campus. Faculty throughout the college are intimately involved in the development of our teacher candidates through this committee.
The teacher preparation program is a double major program, meaning that all teacher candidates in both elementary and secondary programs complete a major in a department outside of Education in addition to their Education major. Each candidate is assigned an academic advisor and mentor in addition to the advisor in education. This structure leads to a sharing of responsibility for the mentorship and assessment of each candidate from first semester freshman year to graduation and recommendation for certification. In addition, a number of courses are either co-taught or cross-listed in the Education Department and other departments on campus so that even our faculty structure and course structure are interwoven with other departments on campus. In this manner, students experience a program of study with values and commitments shared by the entire campus community. It takes the commitment of an entire campus to teach teachers—one individual at a time.
Social Reconstructionist Philosophy
The Department draws from the social reconstructionist tradition in teacher education. Our aim is to prepare critical, analytical, reflective teachers, who view themselves as agents of change in schools and who see teaching as a rigorous intellectual and serious moral endeavor. A social reconstructionist approach directly challenges students to become social reformers and commit to the reconstruction of society through the redistribution of power and other resources (Grant & Sleeter, 1997). The curriculum teaches social action skills, promotes cultural pluralism, and has students analyze oppression with the intent of taking action to work for a more democratic society. Social Reconstructionism focuses on how individuals and groups can change social structures, and in this regard, community action projects are important, and active learning takes center stage (Jenks, Lee & Kanpol, 2001).
The Education Department is driven by three key commitments that provide the foundation for teacher preparation to be successful. The program builds on these three principles and articulates them into program and candidate assessments.
Commitment to Personal Growth: Mentoring Individual Potential
As stated in the mission statement of the College, “education ennobles the individual…we know our students by name.” Just as a good teacher knows and responds to the whole child, caring for his/her intellectual, emotional and social well-being, the Education Department believes a good teacher educator cares for the whole teacher candidate. The faculty view candidates through a developmentalist lens, asserting the healthy personal development of the teacher as the essential groundwork for the development of professional commitments and skills of teaching. The commitment to personal growth and mentorship by our institution is evident in our approach to supervision and the reflective self-assessment designed in our coursework. As we mentor individual potential established Illinois Content Area Standards are also being met while the individual goals, desires, and purposes for teaching of candidates, those reasons that bring passion to the teaching and learning process, are being carefully nurtured as well.
Commitment to Practical Reflection: Analytic Inquiry of Performance
As articulated in our College mission statement, we are committed to the outcome of the our students’ ability to “read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and above all, to think for themselves” in order to “solve problems.” This analytic ability to solve problems is at the heart of what the department believes is necessary to learn and grow as a teacher. Candidates are taught to view teaching problems as resolvable through analytic reflection on one’s practices and careful observation and assessment of students’ responses to instruction. Throughout the course of study within the Education Department and through the other major program of study at the college, students are taught to frame problems and to use various tools of analysis. In addition to multiple research project assignments throughout their courses of study, in each of the content-area majors at the College, students are required to take at least one course that focuses on research design and implementation in that discipline. In the education major, students conduct research projects within each course. Case studies, simulations, and problem-solving activities are all staples of the instructional approach of faculty across campus.
This commitment is also evident in the design of our fieldwork experiences within the education major. In each course within the education major, there is a fieldwork or field study component. The department believes that the journey from novice to competent teacher can only occur through the constant review of theory in terms of practice. Another way that this commitment to analysis is evident is in our supervision practices. The department provides teacher candidates with fieldwork supervisors who are also responsible for their preparation in methods of instruction. Supervisors who are also methods course instructors bring much needed coherence to how theories and approaches to instruction can be effectively practiced. The department follows developmentalist principles and capitalizes on the powerful connection between personal and professional growth. We take seriously the personal connection and interpretations students make to theories of learning and instructional design. We consider the ways in which candidates teach to be their personal expression of theory and hold them to high expectations in terms of their reflections about their practice.
Commitment to Professionalism: Melding Competencies with Responsibility
In keeping with the mission of Lake Forest College, we believe that good teachers are also “responsible citizens.” Candidates come to understand that there are moral consequences to pedagogical decisions. The choices one makes about what to teach and how to teach are value-laden and have important consequences. Good teaching practices for us then are more than what is typically referred to in more technical models of effective teaching; rather, following an ethical model, we understand that technical expertise is meaningless and eventually ineffectual without a sensibility and commitment to larger social aims of teaching and learning. The focus on the “breadth and depth of traditional disciplines” through a full major of study in an academic field encourages a view of knowledge that is not simply factual, fragmented, or merely instrumental. The focus on self-development and self-understanding gives teacher candidates the ethical fortitude necessary to teach in ways that result in positive, productive changes in students’ lives in schools. The intensive, long-term field experiences that are key to the program give teacher candidates an opportunity to articulate and act upon their moral commitments through their pedagogical choices. In this way, they engage in the highest order of teacher reflection—critical reflection—by considering carefully and fully the consequences of their teaching acts over time.