Anyone who has ever stood looking out at a room full of students will tell you that nothing beats actual practice when it comes to mastering the art and skill of classroom teaching.
Research has borne this out, and many teacher preparation programs have lengthened required student teaching from a few months to a full school year, recognizing the value to teacher candidates of extended immersion in a classroom under the supervision of a skillfulentor teacher.
As teacher preparation programs turn their focus to measuring demonstrated competency rather than time on task, simulations have begun to supplement, even surpass clinical hours as opportunities for structured, supervised practice. In many cases, these simulations — which can replicate a range of familiar situations as well as interactions with students, colleagues, and parents — are remarkably realistic. They have the complexity to challenge the teacher candidate on multiple levels. And, particularly in the case of video-based interactions, they can even give the teacher candidate an excellent sense of a classroom setting’s anxiety, tension, and variety of results and responses.
Simulations are well established in training for other professions — think flight simulators and healthcare avatars — and more and more widely used in teaching. They can be remarkably realistic, like FIFA soccer or Madden NFL.
Still, even today’s most realistic simulation technology has limitations: a football player can plausibly make only a finite set of moves, and only 11 players an take the field at any one time. The average public middle school teacher would be lucky to face only a quarter of that number of variables.
There are four broad areas in which simulated teaching environments still must evolve in order to give candidates the rigorous teaching practice that could make clinical immersion unnecessary.