Last week, a national blue-ribbon panel released a recommendation on radical changes to teacher preparation across the country, including a call to increase students’ clinical experience, known as student teaching.
Arizona State University seems to be one step ahead.
This school year, some ASU students from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are taking part in a yearlong pilot program. Instead of the tradition 16-week student teaching at the end of their senior year, these seniors are spending an entire school year on a local kindergarten through 12th grade campus. Not only are they matched in a classroom with a mentor teacher, but they take their ASU classes — taught by an ASU instructor — at the same site.
Julie Gilbert, 30, and Brittain Waller, 21, are matched with Elizabeth Hammer at Chandler’s Kyrene de la Paloma, a Kyrene Elementary School District campus. On Wednesdays, and again on Friday mornings, they take their education courses on teaching science, math and literacy, and learn how to put together lesson plans in their field experience class.
The rest of the weekdays they teach alongside Hammer to 22 second graders.
“They’re seeing an entire year and I think that’s good. They see what they’re getting from the beginning,” Hammer said.
Gilbert said she’s already noticed personal progress since classes began in August — and she still has six months until the end of the school year.
“I compare myself from the beginning to now. There’s so much progress,” Gilbert said.
“I come in here and I feel like a teacher. I have a place. I feel so much more confident about when I am in this position next year,” Waller said.
Starting next fall, all education seniors in ASU’s undergraduate program will participate in the program. There are 3,400 undergraduates currently in the college.
The reform of ASU’s education program, known as iTeachAz, has received two federal grants. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education awarded it a $33.8 million, five-year grant. This fall, the department awarded ASU a $43.8 million Teacher Incentive Fund research grant.
ASU also has a private $18 million grant to model ideas used by Teach For America.
Andrea Pursley is executive director of that program, known as the Sanford Education Project.
“The first year of being a teacher is very, very difficult. I have yet to meet a teacher who thinks of their first year as an easy experience,” Pursley said. “The idea of taking them through a full year is they’re building perspective and skill that will help them a lot as they launch their careers as teachers. … Our goal is an iTeachAz candidate is ready to teach on the level of a second- or third-year teacher.”
With their classes taught onsite, the ASU students can learn about reading comprehension in their literacy class and use it the next day when they teach the Kyrene students.
“What we’re learning in our coursework, we get to apply it in the classroom,” Gilbert said.
All these steps are part of ASU’s move to improve teacher preparation in the state.
“The organization is an intentional bold step for a university to do this and to say, ‘All this has to be in partnership with the community that surrounds the university,’ ” said Mari Koerner, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “We have a responsibility to improve what we’re doing. Principals have told us with this new model they’ll probably hire our teachers above anyone else because they’ll be so immersed in the schools."