Dr. Mari E. Koerner has served as the dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University since 2006 after a decades-long career as an educator and researcher. We were very honored to have her visit our Houston office last week.
You’ve been teaching since 1967. How has teacher prep evolved since you were in school?
I think teacher prep has evolved very little if at all. The same concerns about teacher preparation for the past 100 years have not changed. The
population of students has changed; the teachers have changed; the teacher preparation programs have not changed. The biggest complaint I hear is that teacher prep is confused about what it takes to prepare a teacher. It is ironic that I did not have a teacher prep program to prepare me for teaching and here I am. But that’s why I understand how important it is.
What is your college doing to raise the status of the teaching profession?
I think it’s important to recruit good, smart people into teaching. We need people who actually see this as a profession, not a fall-back if another program does not work out, because becoming a teacher and staying one is really, really hard.
At our college, we have focused on developing a rigorous and selective program. This helps people understand that becoming a teacher is difficult. This is the first step. We also do a lot of outreach in the community to educate everyone on how difficult of a profession teaching really is and then pursue a lot of education research. We’re gaining a reputation for being a teacher prep program that invests in a lot of research. One of our programs, edXchange, translates research into a digestible format for teachers to use in the classroom. Research in education is not irrelevant and can really make a difference for the practice.
There are a lot of teachers that we work with who are just shy of their first month of teaching. What advice would you give them?
To know it’s hard. The reality is teaching is hard. They have to have a lot of teaching and personal resources to get through a difficult job. It becomes easier in some ways, stays difficult in other ways. Perseverance, we have found, is a characteristic that is hugely important in teachers. Persevering is sometimes a reward in and of itself. The more they learn, the more they’ll know. It will get easier in some ways, but there will always be challenges.
My husband was a middle school math teacher for 36 years in Chicago Public Schools and actually won a big teaching award for his work. One year, he had a student who had a brain tumor and had some trouble with the work. He and my husband really bonded and his family says those were the best, happiest years of that student’s life. A few years go by and suddenly, my husband gets a call from the family. The child was dying and wanted to see his favorite teacher. How remarkable. What other profession has that kind of impact? One member of the family asked my husband, well, who do you think nominated you for that award?
Truly, there are rewards in teaching that you don’t get anywhere else. The relationships you build with your students last. Your students will have an impact on your life, and you will have an impact on their lives.