Although nearly all teacher preparation programs give students some sort of instruction on classroom management, most programs don't draw from strategies that research has proven to be the most important, according to a new study from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Researchers at the NCTQ examined teacher preparation programs at 122 colleges and universities, including lectures, assignments, textbooks and opportunities teacher candidates had to practice classroom management skills. But few programs addressed the "Big Five" of classroom management strategies drawn from more than 150 studies: establishing rules, building routines, giving praise, imposing consequences for misbehavior, and maintaining student engagement.
Although the NCTQ highlighted a few schools that did well in addressing several, but not all, of the strategies and providing student teaching feedback on those skills (St. Mary's College of Maryland and University of Washington—Seattle, for example) the results overall were quite the opposite.
"Regrettably, we could not identify a single program in the sample that did well addressing all research-based strategies, identifying classroom management as a priority, strategically determining how it should be taught and practiced, and employing feedback accordingly," the study says.
In fact, more than half of the programs that include these strategies in instruction utilize three or fewer, the study found. Only 17 of the 105 programs addressed all five.
"What we thought was most disturbing is what a disservice this is the future teachers," says NCTQ President Kate Walsh. "We know that new teachers are often put in some of the most difficult assignments a school district has ... and sending them a message that if only they can be a really fabulous instructor, if only they are interesting enough, that they're not going to have these problems, is such a tremendous disservice."
And when teacher preparation programs do teach classroom management, they don't spend a lot of time on it, Walsh says. The study found that on average, instruction on classroom management makes up about the equivalent of eight class periods, or 40 percent of one course. By comparison, teacher candidates often take between 10 and 15 courses throughout their programs.
"The primary message being delivered to future teachers is that if you just design a brilliant lesson, you won't have a problem with behavior," Walsh says. "But any teacher who's ever been in a classroom knows that's not the case. Kids don't always respond to adults, no matter how well-meaning or sympathetic or fascinating an adult is. Kids bring their own issues into the classroom."
And of the classroom management strategies grounded in research, teacher preparation programs least often teach the one "arguably the most strongly supported" by research: giving praise. Nearly three-quarters of the programs examined did not incorporate the praise strategy into their classroom management instruction. Similarly, more than half did not include engaging students.
The disagreement about what should be taught and how, with regards to classroom management, can perhaps be seen in the sheer number of textbooks being used to teach those skills, Walsh says. The NCTQ study identified more than 140 textbooks used in the programs in the sample, for example.
"That absolutely speaks to the field's lack of consensus about what should be taught," Walsh says. "In fields where there is a core, that core is reflected in a few standard textbooks, and that's just not happening here."
But most troubling was not the fact that many programs do not address these five classroom management strategies, Walsh said. Rather, the fact that many programs do not give teaching candidates ample time to practice those skills was perhaps the biggest problem of all.