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A number of organizations have spent years iterating on their ideas to find a fast, effective way to prepare people for teaching. Of course, no program will ever cover everything that needs to be learned, but the successful models in existence are well designed to get teachers started. This guide is the reverse-engineering of these successful programs, pointing out common attributes and highlighting ways they made their programs work for their specific target teachers and their target learners.

Understanding the school environment

Rapid teacher training is built on the premise that there is limited time to prepare a group of teachers or tutors. Given this constraint, everything that is not essential to the work a teacher will be doing should be left out. This means understanding the target school(s) and defining the specific role the teacher will fill.

If you are designing for your own school, the primary challenge is boiling all your knowledge down to the core mission, goals, expectations, and culture, so that your training program can help people to understand these primary points. If you are an outsider preparing a group to teacher or tutor, you need to investigate. This can start with a review of the school's message to the outside world -- exhaustively browse the website, read through the student handbook, lookup the mission if it is posted. Look for affiliations with other groups -- many charter schools belong to larger networks or share a founder with another school -- and then learn about those schools. Next, visit the school. Look to confirm, deny, or add information by talking with the principal, observing a class and debriefing with the teacher, and volunteering to tutor or teach during or after school to get a better sense of how the kids react to and respect you and your teaching style. This will give you a solid base to start designing a training program. However, always plan to be wrong about a lot of things -- future visits and/or feedback from your participants can help guide you as you adapt the program.

If you are an outsider, it is also critical to build relationships with teachers and administration. When putting together the program, it will be helpful to get short bursts of feedback and be able to ask questions on whim. When teaching participants how to prepare for class, it will also be helpful to know what kinds of resources and informations teachers have available and are willing to share (i.e. curriculum map, lesson plans, worksheets, extra textbook, etc).

Constraining the job description

Given a short amount of time to prepare the trainees, you should determine the boundaries of what he or she will or will not need to do. If they will be using pre-created lesson plans, you only need to teach them how to understand and use a lesson plan. If they will be working with elementary school students, there is no need to talk about the issues that teenagers face. General teacher education needs to cover a wide array of possible topics to prepare teachers for the wide range of school cultures, behavior policies, curriculums, class formats, unique problems with urban/suburban/rural kids, etc. Time spent on these areas can be cut if they are not essential to the trainee's role.

Prioritizing needs

Even within the constraints set by the job description, only the top-prioritized areas can be kept. To visualize the prioritization process, it can often help to draw a center circle with concentric circles around it on paper or a whiteboard. The center ring is for the most important things to teach, and topics outside of the rings are things that should not be taught. There are a few different ways to fill in these rings. The first is broadly thinking about the many things jobs that take place in the school, the culture of the school, and end-goals for the students. Others include these exercises:

Teach in 20 minutes:

  • Imagine that you are a volunteer and show up to teach at your school. The school asks you to teach a class starting in 20 minutes. After your initial panic concludes, what questions would you ask? What do you need to know about the style the class is run, how to respond to behavior issues, or even how the students should address you? Now ask somebody else to try this exercise as the student -- what did they forget to ask that left you feeling unconfident about sending them into a classroom? Note that this exercise will probably leave out many aspects of school culture, but that is what the next exercise is for!

Build a working relationship with a student:

  • Imagine that you are asked to council a student who is struggling with personal issues. How would a teacher or tutor be expected to behave? What kinds of relationships form between staff and students? How does the school community typically look out for students in a tough place? What connections does the school have to other social services in the area?
  • Now imagine this scenario for a student with major academic issues. What kind of support is expected from you? How do you follow up with parents and other teachers? How do you track a student's progress? How does the school approach rewards as a form of motivation? Is there funding available for outside enrichment that may be more appropriate for a given student?

Review the core components of other programs

Once a prioritized list is in place, look over the core components of other RTT programs. Compare this to the prioritized needs for being effective in your school or organization. For areas that are similar, see if there are opportunities to borrow content instead of re-inventing the wheel. Some of this information is available on the RTT homepage. Other information is in books, distributed freely online, or sharable by contacting employees of these programs. For areas that are unique to your program, you may need to do more design from scratch.

Importance vs. timeliness

Just because something is important doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be taught before the school year begins. On the same note, many medium-level priority items are needed on the first day of school. Consider how much time you have for orientation and how much time (and focus) will be available for ongoing professional development. Some schools dedicate a half day every week for ongoing training, but most have only an hour or less. It is also important to consider how busy people will be and how willing they are to try new concepts. Finally, each skill has a different level of receptivity for the new teachers at different times. For example, certain tutoring skills may be hard to appreciate until after they have been doing full time tutoring for a few weeks.

Creating the schedule

The next step is to take the list of needs, prioritized by importance and timeliness, and fit them into a schedule for orientation and ongoing development. Although there may be an ideal order, the complex schedules of the people you need to enlist for assistance may dictate much of the ordering. For an example schedule, look at the 2010 MATCH Corps 10 day training schedule.

Creating a feedback mechanism to continually assess and improve future instruction

Once a new program is designed, it is critical to remember that it probably has serious flaws. As a first pass, it is a good idea to show the training program to other teachers and leaders in the school or organization. However, the new teachers and tutors will be the best test of how well this prepared them to teach. When teachers show up, there should be a survey that gives you an idea of what kinds of backgrounds the teachers have and what they are already familiar with. After each day of training, there should be a survey that checks that the information presented that day made sense, was taught in a way that worked with how they learned, and seemed relevant to the job ahead. At the end of training, there should be a survey that asks what the teachers are most excited about, what they are not confident about, and what they would suggest could change about training in the future. During the year, the should be surveys that ask about issues the teachers are running into and things they wish they had learned at the start of the year.