Educators: Taking the next steps together

Guided Contextually Grounded Field Experiences Empower Educators

By Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department

One of the weightiest challenges faced by postsecondary institutions involved in the professional preparation of K-12 educators as been striking a careful balance between theory and practice. Coming to grips with this issue is evident in longstanding deliberations over which entities provide advanced training to novice teachers and policies that signal a movement toward more holistic and guided experiences for educators. For a number of institutions, addressing revised state standards that call for more reflective fieldwork has proven to be a struggle. California’s burgeoning school age population compels us to consider how to best incorporate diversity of background, ability and thought into a sophisticated and compacted professional curriculum for educators.

We find that providing candidates with contextually grounded guided experiences best serves teacher and pupils alike. In a profession characterized by noteworthy rates of first-year burnout, baptism by fire is a poor substitute for support. If—as the popular saying goes—it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes a mentor or two to support a teacher. Thus, fieldwork undertaken by candidates in the classroom is supported by a site-based mentor and a University-based mentor who facilitate understanding of context and reflective practice. Embedded within this philosophy is recognizing that differentiation of instruction must be undertaken vigorously at the postsecondary level of study and that every candidate brings a unique blend of interests, abilities and skills to the table. Guided fieldwork builds upon these talents and provides opportunities for neophytes to consider challenges differently and to affect needed changes at the margins with confidence that comes from experience.

Engaging these practices in meaningful ways also requires that practitioners work to build capacity at school sites and produce artifacts that empower peers to best address needs therein. Aligned with this postulate, every program offered by Extension that leads to a certificate or credential issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing includes a portfolio. These robust documents not only demonstrate mastery of requisite skills and knowledge required for licensure—they also serve as a transportable archive of best practice, informed by seasoned professionals and experience in the field.

In the Homerian tale, Mentor was an elderly man charged with looking after the kingdom of Odysseus and well-being of his son Telemachus (a responsibility shared with Odysseus' foster brother Eumaeus). The Goddess Athena also took the form of Mentor when she encouraged Telemachus to go abroad to find his father during his Trojan war exploits. Both the true Mentor and Athena disguised as Mentor both offered Telemachus sage counsel and useful advice, hence the modern use of the term.

Whilst teachers may not encounter the same sorts of monsters and beings as did Odysseus and his crew, we are cognizant that teacher education programs can empower new practitioners to avoid the Sirens’ songs of one-size-fits-all solutions and quick fixes in the classroom. This is accomplished not solely by instructors, but also by mentors who help craft the precarious blend of theory and practice, ensuring that next steps are taken carefully and thoughtfully.

For more information about mentorship and guided field experiences available in Education Department programs, please contact Morgan Appel, Director, Education Department at

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