Preservice Teachers Can Handle the Feedback [Podcast]

Introduction

How much feedback can preservice teachers handle? It’s a difficult balancing act. Supervisors have to identify room for improvement, without discouraging candidates.

I chatted with Dr. Amy Broemmel and Dr. Jennifer Jordan to explore how candidates and new teachers can handle hard feedback and autonomy in the classroom. Amy and Jennifer are faculty at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s College of Education Health and Human Sciences. At UT, they teach courses, serve as supervisors and research professional development and teacher preparation. Jennifer and Amy offered a lot of insight for supervisors, so I know you’ll enjoy this episode of the teacher education podcast. 

The Role of Supervisors and Feedback

Amy, it seems that you have taught elementary education for a while. Why did you leave teaching elementary and pursue a doctorate? (00:46)

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Dr. Amy Broemmel

Dr. Amy Broemmel: So the easy answer is I was seeing my colleagues have student teachers and I worked with some amazing teachers, but they were frustrated with the quality of student teachers they were getting and I knew my own program prepared me really well and so I was really confused about what they were seeing as the disconnect between the two and the area of research that Jennifer and I work on together and separately is professional development, which is kind of that bridge between sharing what we know with practicing teachers and teachers who are upcoming and trying to kind of close that gap. (00:57)

I also have a question for you about field experience, so I know that you both have lots of experience being a supervisor. I’m assuming that you had some ideas of what it would be like before you went and became a supervisor, but when you became that supervisor, what surprised you? What did you not expect? (01:37)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I think for me, because as a teacher I always wanted critical feedback and I have always taken that as help me get better, I was really surprised by the possessiveness of the mentor teachers in terms of protecting their student teachers. So as a supervisor, when I would go in and say, “You did a great lesson, let’s think about how you could make it better. I saw this gap, or what did you think about how you did this?” Sometimes the mentor teachers care so deeply and so much about the wellbeing of their student teachers that they push back and they were like, “No, no, no. They were fine. They were good.” So navigating that tension and trying to help nurture that growth in a way that’s completely appropriate, they’re not supposed to be perfect when they go into that, without stepping on the toes of the mentor-teacher whose insight is invaluable was the hardest thing for me to navigate, was the biggest surprise. (01:57)

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Dr. Jennifer Jordan

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: And she stole my answer. The only thing I would add to that would just be that interesting balance between the mentors trying to protect the candidates and thinking that they can’t handle, you can’t handle the truth, you can’t handle the feedback. I was also happily surprised, and I know this isn’t exactly what you were looking for, but surprised at how well and how critical our students are of themselves. I was trained to try to navigate those conversations and how are you going to be honest and forthright and give them helpful feedback, but obviously in a way that is respectful and caring and is going to help them move forward. (03:00)

I found that a lot of times I’ll meet with our candidates after they’ve taught, and I usually just start out with a question of “How do you think it went today?” And it’s like they read my mind, they tell me exactly what they feel like they weren’t strong at. They don’t always have the answers about what to do next. So that’s why I still have a job because I can add that information in. But they’re so reflective and so just smart and really with it. So it really makes me proud to think about our candidates going out to the field because they’re doing an awesome job. (04:00)

This is actually a perfect transition because I noticed that you guys presented a paper on feedback recently and as we’re talking about feedback, I’m wondering, from the research that you’ve been doing and as you’ve been working with students, what are maybe a technique or an idea or an important fact that other supervisors should keep in mind when they’re giving feedback to their candidates? (04:38)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: I would just say that we really take the stance in our own teaching. We co-teach with Dr. Nora Vines as well. So she’s a big piece of thinking about how to give feedback and how we do our instruction. We really model, for our students, the type of teachers we want them to be. So when we’re giving feedback to our students, whether it be out in their clinical placement or if it’s writing feedback on their assignments, we write it or say it in just the same way that we want them to model for their students. So that there’s that connection between what they’re seeing in the field and here at the university. (05:05)

We really model for our students the type of teachers we want them to be. —Dr. Jennifer Jordan, The University of Tennessee at Knoxville Click To Tweet

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I think we base it on three. We talk about three components. So it has to be specific. The feedback has to be specific to a point. It has to be actionable. So we give them something specific that they can do in relation to the feedback. And then if possible, provide a resource. (05:50)

So for example, if we’re doing a really simple assignment, say they’ve written a reflection on some readings that they’ve done, we might pick out a specific piece and say you’ve made it really clear that you read each one of the readings for today, but you didn’t spend very much time demonstrating your depth of understanding. So you might want to refer back to the rubric that we gave you on the first day to make sure you’re covering all of the points identified so that you can demonstrate that depth. (06:14)

I really like that. Could you name those three again? (06:50)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: So it has to be specific, it has to provide an action, a direction in which they should go, and then if possible, a resource for making that next step. (06:53)

Diversity at The University of Tennessee

That’s fantastic. So I was just wondering if you could tell our audience a little bit about your school, how it’s unique, how it’s maybe similar to other teacher preparation programs around the country. (07:05)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I think The University of Tennessee and where it’s situated is that we have pretty easy access to some pretty urban schools where a number of children of color, children of poverty, face some pretty big challenges. And on the same hand just around the corner, like within a 30-mile drive, we have children who are facing similar challenges in living in rural poverty. And so our students, over the course of their study, spend time in urban settings, spend some time in suburban settings, and spend some time in high need areas of rural Appalachia. So they’re leaving with this content knowledge that we’re building on, but they’re also leaving with some experiential knowledge in each of those settings alongside a full year teaching with a master teacher. (07:17)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: And I would add to that as well. It’s just the whole idea that we know if we look at the national makeup of teachers, it tends to be white, middle-class females. And so most of the students that are coming to us do fall into that category and they have not spent time in rural areas. They have not spent time in urban areas. They’ve not spent time with children in poverty or from different multicultural backgrounds or language backgrounds and so we really confront that right from the beginning of the program and make sure that our students are thinking about how all of those topics intersect with each other and how important all of those are to teaching. Like Amy was saying, just knowing content knowledge isn’t enough. If you don’t know your students and you don’t know where they’re coming from, it’s going to be really difficult to be a successful teacher. (08:19)

If you don't know your students and you don't know where they're coming from, it's going to be really difficult to be a successful teacher. —Dr. Jennifer Jordan, The University of Tennessee at Knoxville Click To Tweet

The Enrollment Problem

It sounds like you guys are doing a lot of exciting and successful things right now, but if I were to ask you what is the biggest challenge for UT? What would you say it is? (09:53)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: Attracting teachers, attracting people who want to be teachers. And that’s a nationwide trend that we’ve seen over the past 10 years as teachers have unfortunately seemingly become more devalued and their expertise has become more devalued. We are putting a lot of effort into recruiting because the number of people interested in becoming a teacher is dropping off. (10:08)

Have you found anything that has been successful as you’re trying new things to recruit more students? (10:37)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: Well, UT also has some really innovative programs, even just across the whole state of Tennessee. We have a program where community college is free for all students if they have a certain GPA and we’ve started partnering with some of the schools in the urban areas of Knoxville and we’re offering, The University of Tennessee is offering, free tuition for graduates from those high schools just for that reason, because we’re trying to reach out and increase our diversity as we move to this elementary ed minor. (10:43)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: Major. (11:25)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: Major, I’m sorry. We are also looking into a grow your own kind of program where we’re hoping that we can actually get into the high schools and maybe teach some of our classes there so that they’re leaving high school with college credit working towards this elementary major and in that way, we can start to entice or reach out further beyond what our makeup is of our program because it’s definitely something that we’re very aware of and that we’re working towards doing. (11:25)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I think a lot of what Jennifer talked about in terms of reaching out to community colleges and local high schools and trying to attract people who have generally not been interested in teacher education in the past. I mean logically, when we think about students who’ve grown up in under-resourced classrooms and schools, predominantly in urban and extremely rural settings, they don’t have the greatest experiences and associations with school, and so why would they grow up and want to come back into that environment that they’re not comfortable with? And so really in order to attract the kinds of diverse populations to teacher education that we really need in order to serve the diverse populations of students, we have to start breaking down some of those barriers and trying to help them understand or feel more comfortable in a school environment. (12:02)

And so that goes to us reaching out to those aspects, to those high-schoolers, to those community college students, to people who want a second career, those kinds of things. So it’s really kind of broadening our perspective of who can join the club, who can join the teacher club and who would be interested in doing that so that we get away from the typical white female, upper-middle-class teacher education student who’s had lovely, glowing K-12 experiences and just loves the school environment. Their role for them too, we want people who love that, but we really need some broader perspectives and that’s where we’re reaching out. (13:03)

We really need some broader perspectives and that's where we're reaching out. —Dr. Amy Broemmel, The University of Tennessee at Knoxville Click To Tweet

Teacher Preparation Ten Years in the Future

So imagine we’re 10 years in the future. What would be different about teacher preparation programs? (13:54)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I think they’re going to be fewer and farther between. I think the strongest ones that are willing to adjust will grow. But I don’t think there will be as many formal teacher education programs as there currently are. (14:01) 

Really? (14:16)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: That’s my suspicion. More alternative licensure, more avenues to become a teacher that don’t involve four-year universities. And so I think the four-year or five-year programs that will survive over the next 10 years will be those that adjust and have a strong record of placing strong, high achieving teachers who positively impact their students in the classroom. That’s my prognostication. (14:18)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: I concur. (14:50) 

The Magic Wand Question

And then finally I want to ask a question that we like to ask all of our guests and it is, if you could wave a magic wand to change one thing about teacher education in the United States, what would it be? (14:53)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I’m going to go out on a limb and make it tangentially related. I would make teacher salaries commensurate with the experiences and education expected of them. I think it impacts teacher education because when you’re going through a program like ours at a major university and you’re paying a pretty high tuition and taking out student loans and you’re going to get out and make $35,000 a year and you’re going to top out at 55 or maybe 60, there’s an imbalance there that is kind of unjustifiable really. Teachers have to have a master’s, they have to have ongoing professional development and education, and yet we are not willing to pay them anywhere near their worth. And I think we would see more numbers, higher quality of students across the board who decide to pursue teacher education if that were a thing. So that’s my magic wand. (15:05) 

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: I don’t know where I’d get this magic wand from. And if I did, I’d probably be a millionaire. But if we could kind of just get everybody to a space where we trusted teachers to make decisions and we didn’t always tell teachers what to do. Again, if we’re teaching them to be critical thinkers and to be avid readers and be seeking answers, that’s the expectation, and so if we’re doing that, then let them go. Let them find those answers and help them. Be here as a support, I’m not saying it’s like the Wild West, but letting that idea of professionalism, which doesn’t seem to really be present in teaching as much as it is in other professions, have that really mean something and hold some weight. (16:13)

If Dr. Amy Broemmel could wave a magic wand to change one thing about teacher education, she would make teacher salaries commensurate with the experiences and education expected of them. Click To Tweet

Dr. Amy Broemmel: So I’m going to kind of try to summarize what she just said because one of my favorite mentors said, “You can’t really have accountability without autonomy.” And what we are doing is we’re telling teachers, we as a society, we as an administrator in a building or a district are saying, “You have to do these things. You have to follow the script. You have to do what we’re telling you to. And by the way, you’re also being held accountable for all the learning of your kids.” Which isn’t really a fair approach. So I would advocate, we can hold teachers accountable all day long. There has to be accountability for teacher education departments as well as teachers on their own, but you also have to give them the autonomy to make decisions. Otherwise, it’s not true accountability. They’re just getting blamed for the decisions that they’ll make. (17:08)

Lightning Round

Fantastic. Those are both great answers. So we’d like to do a lightning round. Have you heard of it? It won’t be too bad. Amy, you’re up first. Are you ready? (18:05)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: I’m ready. (18:24)

Okay. Favorite conference to attend? (18:25)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: American Reading Forum. (18:31)

Last book you read and enjoyed? (18:33)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: Elton John’s biography. (18:37)

Your most trusted teacher preparation source? 

Dr. Amy Broemmel: Mm. Oh gosh, I will. That’s what I was going to say. Jennifer is really good at that. I think we have to have really good people to rely on. So Jennifer’s probably my most trusted source. (18:43)

Oh, that’s really cute. Okay. Jennifer? (18:57)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: Yes. (19:02)

Best movie that you’ve seen in the past year? (19:04)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: Well, I should probably say something new, so I’m going to say the new Star Wars movie that’s out, but then it caused me to watch Return of the Jedi, which is my favorite because I have an obsession with Ewoks so I’m going to go with Return of the Jedi. (19:08)

Okay. One piece of advice that you would have for a new supervisor? (19:25)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: Get to know your students. Get to know their backgrounds, advocate for your students. Oh, I was supposed to do a sentence. (19:32)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: One piece of advice, Jennifer. (19:41)

And then finally, what’s your favorite vacation spot? (19:44)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: So I’m going to say something goofy and it’s going to be wherever Amy and I are running together, like Key West or Las Vegas. (19:46)

Dr. Amy Broemmel: We do have half marathons together. (19:58)

Oh wow. I can’t run a mile, so I’m in awe. Thank you guys so much. It’s really been wonderful to talk to you. (20:04)

Dr. Jennifer Jordan: No, it was great, I had fun. (20:07)

Conclusion

That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe. If you like what you heard, please rate and review this podcast to help others find us. The teacher education podcast is brought to you by GoReact. This episode was hosted by me, Hillary Gamblin, and produced by Danielle Burt, Joseph Winter, and Jordan Harris. Chad Jardine is our executive producer. Guests on the podcast are expressing personal opinions for informational purposes only. They’re not acting as official representatives for their universities or organizations. (20:29)

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