Student teaching overhaul

New year-long student teaching to begin in 2014

Impacting children’s lives is what Mary

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(Nielsen) Blindert enjoys most about teaching. She credits the student teaching experience she had her last year

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of college with preparing her to make a difference. “Student teaching gave me interaction with real children. In university classes you read textbooks and discuss different types of students and their learning styles, but being in the classroom allowed me to see these students firsthand and apply what I read to actually teach them in a way that allowed each student to learn,” says the 2012 SDSU early childhood education graduate. Jill Thorngren had a similar experience when she student taught 20 years ago. “I loved my coursework, however, I feel that the first day of student teaching was the first day I really started learning how to be a teacher,” says the college dean. “I’m a strong believer that education majors should receive as much clinical experience as possible before they graduate.”

Regents driving new plan

South Dakota’s Board of Regents shares Thorngren’s belief and recently proposed a new training model for education majors. Administrators and faculty from South Dakota’s five public teacher training universities have been asked to work together in developing a residency year model of student teaching for all education majors. One component being considered is the “school bell to university bell” time frame. This means SDSU education majors would begin their hands-on teaching experience the first day of school for the K-12 classroom and end it when they graduate. “When developing this new model, we looked at how other professionals — like pharmacists, nurses and doctors — prepared for their careers. They all have longer placements,” Thorngren says. Thorngren says the new model is part of a national trend to reform teacher education training, and South Dakota is one of the first states in the nation to embrace this year-long residency model. An important aspect of this model is co-teaching. This means that from day one of the residency, the teacher education candidate will be sharing responsibilities with the classroom teacher. “Research shows that on-the-job training, under the supervision of experienced professionals, is actually where practitioners learn,” says Thorngren, referencing a report compiled by the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education a few years ago.

Universities to collaborate at public schools

Along with increasing the length of time students receive hands-on training in a K-12 classroom prior to graduation, the new model also encourages more collaboration between the five public universities that offer teacher education, education majors, K-12 schools and mentor teachers, explains Andrew Stremmel, head of the department of teaching, learning and leadership. “A year-long residency allows education majors to have more of a co-teaching experience where mentor teachers and education majors collaborate,” Stremmel says. “This also allows us to better integrate field experience and coursework.” Because faculty from the five universities will be working together, they can share supervisory duties when students from more than one university are co-teaching at the same K-12 school. Stremmel says this will also encourage more interaction between university faculty and K-12 faculty. “University faculty will visit the schools more and work with mentor teachers and co-teachers to ensure the experience benefits everyone,” Stremmel says. “Research demonstrates that the performance of K-12 students in a classroom increases when there is a co-teacher present.”

New model creates other challenges

Although Stremmel and Thorngren are eager to see SDSU education majors enter into the year-long co-teaching model, there are still many details yet to be worked out before the 2014 launch. For example, SDSU education majors are required to also major in a content area while taking their education classes. “SDSU is very proud that our students are required to major in a content area, like math, theater or chemistry, because it really provides our students with a well-rounded education and an advanced skill set,” Thorngren says. “In the new model we’ll have to work out a way that they can complete courses necessary for the content area and spend a year co-teaching.” She says this is another area where collaboration with the other public universities will prove invaluable. “We can share supervision and maybe even offer alternative sites for taking classes during this year of residency,” Thorngren says.

Mentor teacher still a resource

Blindert’s mentor teacher taught her how

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to effectively implement differentiated instruction and center-based learning. Differentiated instruction is a technique in which a teacher presents the same content to a classroom of students, and yet teaches it in a variety of ways through learning centers so students of various learning levels are all challenged. Blindert says she’s implemented many of her mentor’s techniques in her classroom. “She was great at training me on how to be an effective teacher and instructing students so they understood the content that they were being taught. I gained so many skills by observing her and teaching with her,” Blindert says. In her first year of teaching preschool and kindergarten at McCook Central Elementary in Salem, Blindert says when she needs advice, she contacts her mentor teacher. “If I have any questions I can always go to her and she is very helpful,” Blindert says. Pairing co-teachers with mentor teachers who will provide them with a positive learning experience has always been the goal of the student teaching program — one that will only be easier to achieve in the new model, says Thorngren. “We’re committed that this new model will not only better prepare future teachers, but increase K-12 student achievement, so it is important that we screen both the co-teachers and mentors to ensure that it’s a good fit for both of them,” she says.

Lura Roti

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