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The Q&A: Amber Thompson

In this week’s Q&A, we interview Amber Thompson, who oversees the teacher preparation program at the University of Houston's College of Education.

Amber Thompson oversees the teacher preparation program at the University of Houston's College of Education.

With each issue, Tasbo+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to health care. Here is this week’s subject:

Amber Thompson oversees the teacher preparation program at the University of Houston's College of Education. 

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Tasbo+Edu: What does a normal day in the life at work look like for you?

Amber Thompson: Overseeing the program is a big job, in that there are many variables happening on a daily basis. Our main goal that grounds us is making sure teachers are ready for the classroom on day one. That means everything from revising coursework and scheduling, to supporting students in the field and working with supervisors and faculty for preparing students. We also put a lot of time into working with our partner districts — those that hire our students — to make sure we’re meeting their needs.

It’s a lot of planning, organizing and paying attention to what a pre-service teacher needs in their preparation to be ready on day one. Our goal is to make students more like a second-year teacher rather than a first-year one. 

Tasbo+Edu: One of the things you focus on is the importance of making sure schools are equipped with high-quality teachers who are ready to teach. Is Texas on the right track?

Thompson: I will say that we are strong believers in university-based teacher preparation. When you’re being prepared at a university, you have a minimum of two years of coursework; at the University of Houston, that includes a year-long, rigorous and intensive student-teaching experience. Universities are really moving in the right direction.

We also have a large alternative teacher certification presence in Texas, and those teachers have little training prior to stepping foot into the classroom. We’ve focused on how we can scale up the university base, given that those are the teachers that stay in the field — where we see high levels of retention and teacher quality.

Tasbo+Edu: What do scaling-up efforts at the university base look like?

Thompson: In my experience, it’s paying attention to and supporting the university program — regulations around who’s admitted, the requirements of being certified as a teacher and the support after teachers leave the program. Between university prep and other forms of preparation, the regulations are a little off balance, and we need to work out how we can put forward the work that’s being done at the university.

Tasbo+Edu: You talk about critical relationships between colleges and K-12 districts. Can you expand on that?

Thompson: There’s been a lot of criticism that universities are removed from the districts, or the people who employ our students. We’re also involved in a grant program called U.S. Prep, so we’re paying attention to partnerships between universities and those that hire our teachers. They’re involved in everything from who’s admitted to the program, what’s in our courses, what the student experience looks like and how we support them after they leave. It really is a true partnership; both sides are paying attention to making sure there’s a high-quality teacher in that classroom.

That’s rather than us preparing them at the university on all our own, sending them out to districts and telling them take it from there. We want to work together from the minute someone may want to be a teacher, partnering with them along the way. Doing it together is better.

Tasbo+Edu: Your college was one of 10 to receive a grant from Raise Your Hand Texas. What will the funding enable you to do?  

Thompson: We’re incredibly honored to be a recipient of the grant. It’s more of a scholarship; the majority of the funds from the foundation are directly supporting students while they’re in the program, lessening the financial burden of those who want to be teachers. Raise Your Hand Texas is coming together with us to create an application process for those who are seeking those funds. 

Tasbo+Edu: Can you highlight some of the biggest hurdles the program faces?  

Thompson: Recruiting top talent in the teacher prep program is something we’re always paying attention to. When students are in the program and have a full year of in-the-classroom experience, it creates a situation where it’s hard for them to have an outside job. Raise Your Hand Texas is one of the ways we’re working to make sure students don’t face as much of a financial burden — because that piece is so critical to the preparation of teachers.  

Another challenge for our students is having a work-life balance. Teaching is incredibly demanding; teachers pour their hearts and souls taking care of others at the expense of taking care of themselves.

Tasbo+Edu: Is there anything you’d like to add to today’s conversation?

Thompson: The quality of the teacher is the single most important factor in student achievement. Our time and energy into quality preparation programs is money and time well worth invested.

Disclosure: The University of Houston and Raise Your Hand Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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