Teacher Preparation Essay

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The social and cultural foundations of education infuse the field of teacher preparation throughout all levels within the United States, providing a context for the study of education. Future teachers learn why schools are the way they are and how they are based within social, cultural, political, economic, community, and historical contexts. Educational foundations is a course taught in many teacher preparation programs. The topics addressed are also frequently found within state standards for what candidates for teaching credentials must demonstrate. The foundations of education also have a presence in national accreditation organizations; contribute to national debates on education; and influence educational policy at the local, state, and national levels. At the same time, however, there is a consistent concern about the dwindling importance of foundations within schools of education because of increased standardization. This entry will describe the basics of teacher preparation: when it occurs, where it occurs, and what is taught in the programs. It will also describe the issues of key concern for the social and cultural foundations of education related to teacher preparation.

When And Where

In order to earn a teaching credential, a candidate is usually expected to hold a bachelor’s degree, often along with additional education. Some states allow candidates to receive their teaching credential while earning their bachelor’s degrees in education. Other states have a post baccalaureate program that follows a bachelor’s degree. And yet other states have programs that offer the teaching credential in conjunction with a master’s degree. Newer teacher preparation designs involve direct paths to teaching through internship programs that offer full-time teacher status with university courses taken at the same time.

Traditional teacher preparation programs offer university courses at the college or university campus, followed by multiple weeks or multiple semesters of practicum, called “student teaching,” in K–12 classrooms. However, there is also a movement toward shifting part of teacher preparation programs into the schools and communities. In what is called the Professional Development School model, teacher preparation programs are expanding to meet not only the credentialing needs of university students who desire to be teachers, but also the professional development needs of current teachers who serve as mentors for the university students. These new structures of teacher preparation have resulted in an increased connection between university colleges of education and public schools and districts. In these structures, teacher preparation is more field-based, and teachers in schools have the opportunity to be more research and theory-based.

Curriculum Issues

Programs commonly combine university coursework with field-based experiences to gain practice in classrooms. When these two components of a teacher preparation program are separated by time or location, the result is a tension between educational theory and educational practice, often termed the “theory/ practice split.” To draw theory and practice together, courses in educational foundations draw on philosophy, history, sociology, and anthropology of education to provide the theory on which to base practice.

An additional tension within teacher education is found between pedagogy and content, between “how to teach” and “what teachers should know.” Lee Shulman, among other educators, has helped to clarify the connections between pedagogy and content with his concept of “pedagogical content knowledge,” which states that a teacher must have in-depth knowledge of a subject matter, as well as knowledge of how to teach that content to students.

Shift Toward Critical Pedagogy

A key role for the social and cultural foundations of education has been to help shift traditional forms of thinking in teacher preparation programs to take a more critical stance on the education system. In what is called critical pedagogy, educators critically challenge accepted norms and power structures within society and the educational system. Teacher preparation candidates are challenged to examine issues of power and racism in order to help create a more participatory democracy within their classrooms and society.

An additional approach encouraged through foundations of education is called “culturally responsive teaching.” Through this approach, teacher preparation candidates are now asked to consider how learning and curriculum relate to race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Candidates are asked to address how privilege is expressed in education and how to help put an end to inequalities.

National Standards

Several national organizations exist that help forward the agenda of reflective teaching, improved teacher education, and the examination of context within teacher education. Two examples, among many, include the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, under the guidance of current president Lee Shulman, and the National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future, with founding Executive Director Linda Darling-Hammond. Through these and many other organizations and individuals, the social and cultural foundations of education have found a place in state and national standards for teacher preparation, promoting active participation in debate.

The Council for Social Foundations of Education has created its own standards of preparation and certification, titled “Standards for Academic and Professional Instruction in Foundations of Education, Educational Studies, and Educational Policy Studies,” which clearly define what the foundations of education are and how teacher preparation programs can prepare teachers better if these standards are addressed. Organizations such as these engage in active examination of how to improve teacher education, as well engaging policymakers to make change.


  1. Cochran-Smith, M., & Zeichner, K. M. (2006). Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Council of Learned Societies in Education. (1996). Standards for academic and professional instruction in foundations of education, educational studies, and educational policy studies (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
  3. Also available online at http://members.aol.com/caddogap/standard.htm
  4. Darling-Hammond, L. (1996). What matters most: Teaching for America’s future. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
  5. Giroux, H. A. (1997). Pedagogy and the politics of hope: Theory, culture, and schooling: A critical reader. Boulder, CO: Westview.
  6. Goodlad, J. (1998). Educational renewal: Better teachers, better schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  7. Holmes Group. (1995). Tomorrow’s schools of education. East Lansing, MI: Author.
  8. Shulman, L. (2004). The wisdom of practice: Essays on teaching, learning, and learning to teach.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  9. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education:http://www.ncate.org

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