Learning Their Craft by Being Immersed in the Life of a School
By Ann Bradley
Wells, Me--Cindy Guthro was not sure that she wanted to be part of plans at Wells Junior High School here to embark on an intensive new teacher-preparation program.
The 8th-grade reading teacher remembered too well a draining experience several years ago with an underprepared student teacher who took up too much of her time.
But Ms. Guthro has long put aside her misgivings.
Since the beginning of the school year, she has been working closely with one of 14 "intern" teachers who are learning their craft by being immersed in the life of her school. Even their university courses are taught here.
In the process, Ms. Guthro has become an enthusiastic supporter of the collaborative approach to teacher training that has been adopted by the University of Southern Maine and the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District.
"My student teacher used to just parrot back what I'd said," Ms. Guthro recalls. "The intern changes things. I find myself taking notes. I don't feel like I have to teach her plus my kids."
The pilot program has drawn the notice of the U.S. Education Department--which has provided a two-year, $98,859 grant to support the project--and of the Unum Corporation, a southern Maine insurance company that made a $1.1-million donation to the college of education to help underwrite the initiative.
This month, the National Education Association designated the collaborative as one of three sites nationwide that will help launch its efforts to encourage the redesign of teacher education. (See Education Week, March 6, 1991.)
As part of that proposal, the Wells-Ogunquit school district, along with the nearby communities of Gorham and Portland, Me., will work with the university to create "professional-development schools" in which future teachers can be trained.
Although still in its fledgling stages, the Southern Maine collaborative exemplifies some of the most recent thinking about reforming the clinical preparation of teachers. These include an extensive reliance on field-based experiences, closer ties between school and university professionals, and an emphasis on developing confident, reflective practitioners.
Part of the initiative shown by Ms. Guthro's intern teacher reflects her background: Amy Beecher was a teaching assistant in a special-education class before entering the post-baccalaureate program at the University of Southern Maine.
But Ms. Beecher's competence also stems, teacher educators here say, from the program's emphasis on developing knowledgeable and inquiring teachers who will be fully prepared to take over their own classes after spending a year as participating members of a school faculty.
In order to accomplish that goal, the college of education received permission last year from the university's board of trustees to eliminate its four-year teacher-training program.
In its place, the college created an "extended teacher-education program" that is designed to attract three types of students: those who have already completed a minor in education at u.s.m., recent graduates of other universities, and "mid-career" students.
The program is divided into three components. Students first must complete "pre-professional" coursework--either through a minor at u.s.m. or through documentation of coursework and school experiences elsewhere--that shows they are ready for the yearlong internship.
After the internship year, which is referred to as the "professional" level of training, students who receive their certification and begin teaching can continue their coursework and complete the requirements for a master's degree from the university.
It is in the design and philosophy of the internship year that the University of Southern Maine has made its boldest changes, faculty members here say.
Instead of simply placing students in schools to absorb their ways, as is common in many teacher-education programs, the university views public-school teachers and administrators as equal partners in the design of both the clinical experiences and the coursework that make up the internship.
At Wells Junior High, teachers and the school principal are team-teaching university courses with faculty members from u.s.m.
The pilot project is jointly directed by Cherie Major-Foster, an associate professor, and Julia D. Phelps, the principal of Wells Junior High. Next school year, Susan Walters, who runs the school district's teacher-certification program, will work with Ms. Major-Foster.
In the fall, about 70 of the university's 130 teacher-education students will start their internships in schools in the Wells-Ogunquit, Gorham, and Portland school districts.
Robert B. Kautz, superintendent of Wells-Ogunquit, thinks his school district will reap numerous benefits from the pilot project, including the increased accountability for teacher education that could result from having two organizations share in preparing future educators.
He also suggests that the new approach will send a powerful signal to students about the teaching profession. "Schools serving as professional schools--where they are modeling adults going into education--it says education is important," he asserts. "You're not just talking, but modeling."
The decision here to move the bulk of teacher training from the university campus into the schools, and to do so in such close collaboration with public-school teachers and administrators, was not reached overnight.
Instead, educators say, a number of converging forces caused both the university and local school districts to gravitate toward an intensive year of clinical training.
The catalyst for the cooperative venture was the Southern Maine Partnership, a project that links the university with 15 surrounding school districts in continuing conversations about the revitalization of schools and of teacher preparation.
The partnership, which was formed in 1985, is a member of the National Network for Educational Renewal, a nationwide consortium of school-university partnerships that was founded by John I. Goodlad, a prominent teacher educator.
The driving notion behind the network--and behind much of Mr. Goodlad's own work--is that schools and universities must renew themselves at the same time in order for change to be meaningful and enduring.
As school districts involved with the partnership began to re-examine their practices and to restructure themselves, u.s.m. also was taking a hard look at its teacher-education program.
The university, which remains proud of its beginnings as a normal school more than 100 years ago, was offering a fairly traditional teacher-education program to the bulk of its students. However, the clinical portion of the program had offered a yearlong teaching experience in the schools for the past two decades.
In addition, for the past eight years, usm has offered two certification programs for mid-career professionals that are based almost entirely in the schools.
The demand for admittance to the alternative programs was high. And until last year, when Maine's economy began to slump, 100 percent of the mid-career graduates were hired.
In 1990, when 75 percent of the mid-career teachers found jobs, only 40 percent of the graduates from the regular program did so, university officials say.
These market forces, combined with the fact that many students in the undergraduate program were taking more than four years to complete their studies, convinced Dorothy Moore, dean of the college of education, that the university should create a five-year program that would allow both traditional undergraduates and mid-careerists to become certified to teach.
"The first time I floated this idea, I was nearly tarred and feathered by the faculty," Ms. Moore recalls. "The writing on the wall was clear; we had to restructure teacher education. But they were afraid of whether they would lose, in the end, what had been a good program."
After three years of debate, faculty members "came to see that it was the right thing for us to do," the dean says.
By the time that faculty members were ready to begin redesigning the teacher-education program, their public-school colleagues also had become accustomed to change and were eager to take on new roles.
"The groundwork was there," says Lynne Miller, an associate professor of education at u.s.m., who serves as director of teacher education and as executive direc the Southern Maine Partnership. "When the university was finally ready to move, the schools were saying, 'We want to be in partnership with you."'
At Wells Junior High, teachers who had participated in the nea's Mastery in Learning project had become accustomed to making decisions by consensus and had embarked on the task of reorganizing Wells into a middle school.
The school was a natural choice in which to begin the new internship year because the university also had decided to offer a new middle-school concentration to complement a middle-school endorsement that was being developed by the state.
But teachers at the school say the main reason they were interested in taking on the increased workload associated with helping to prepare future educators was its logic.
When Ms. Major-Foster of usm and Ms. Phelps presented the idea, remembers Saul Lindauer, a computer teacher at the school, their enthusiasm was infectious.
"They made such a convincing argument," Mr. Lindauer says. "We all had the intuitive idea that this is what makes sense. This is how the profession takes care of its new generation."
Mr. Lindauer is now teaching a computer-literacy course to the interns.
His colleague, Ms. Guthro, says the main concern teachers had in deciding whether to participate in the pilot program was the amount of time it would require. Instead of being overburdened, however, she says teachers who have volunteered to work with interns have found themselves with extra time to devote to professional development or to other projects because the interns sometimes take over their classes.
Ms. Phelps says that she has always believed that "we are all teacher educators," but that she previously had felt sidelined in any attempts to get involved in preparation programs.
The new program has given Ms. Phelps, who is also team-teaching one of the university courses, the opportunity she has long sought to influence the preparation of teachers.
"It's always been a real struggle for me," she explains. "I feel that as a principal, I am a teacher educator working with teachers on setting goals."
The Wells program, known as the Teacher Educators Alliance for Middle Schools (or teams) project, is organized around the public school's calendar, not the university's.
Interns spend the first semester becoming accustomed to the school and its students and taking on as many teaching assignments as their cooperating teachers recommend.
After the dismissal bell rings, the interns gather for their university classwork or for seminars in which they discuss their experiences.
A central aim of the program has been to create a close-knit cohort of students who can support and reinforce one another during the year. Since the first day of school, the interns say, they have felt united, largely because they all participated in a two-day Outward Bound trip before school started that was part of the teams program.
For the second semester--formal student teaching--the interns were required to design their own clinical experiences. Six are now teaching in elementary- or high-school classrooms to gain a greater understanding of the entire educational system.
While such direct participation by nov6ice teachers in their own preparation might be unusual in other settings, it is characteristic of the approach used during this pilot year at Wells.
The flexibility is both a necessary response to an evolving program and a reflection of the greater maturity of the participating interns, who were selected for the program from a pool of 35 applicants to the university's two mid-career programs.
The mean age of the participants is 30; the oldest is 44, and the youngest is 24.
Despite the range in their ages and work experiences before entering the program--including construction work, financial planning, and engineering--interns here voice some of the same concerns shared by teacher-education students nationwide.
Several interns say they are frustrated by the tension between the university's course requirements and their more pressing need for technical knowledge on how to manage students and deliver lessons.
"We're really getting a chance to get acclimated to the school and the kids and to see school politics," says Charles Barnard, a social-science intern. "We are an integral part of how the school runs."
But Mr. Barnard complains that his university coursework is "a little more upper-level than what I need."
"We need more real-life teaching models of what works in the classroom, rather than books," he says.
Mr. Barnard's comments were seconded by Evarist Bernier, an English intern who says he occasionally has been overwhelmed by the workload of the program.
"I really can't believe it's all necessary," he says of the u.s.m. coursework.
Mr. Bernier says he has discussed his feelings with his cooperating teacher. "We share the opinion that you do it to get the job," he says. "I think from the first day I could have taught."
The interns will receive 30 credits toward a master's degree for the program: 22 credits for professional education courses, and 8 credits for their teaching practicum.
The courses taught are adolescent development, reading and writing across the curriculum, learning theory, models of teaching and content methods, middle-level curriculum and organization, media and computers, and exceptionality.
The tight one-year schedule has made it difficult to incorporate a course on the history of education, Ms. Major-Foster of usm says. She also acknowledges that the program does not address multicultural education, largely because of Maine's homogeneous student population.
But she anticipates that a foundations course will become one of the requirements for the "advanced professional" level of study, which graduates of the internship level could pursue on their own after beginning to teach.
In the meantime, the grant from the U.S. Education Department will enable the university to develop a summer orientation program to expose new interns to current issues in education, as well as to some of its jargon and history.
Among other things, the money also will pay for training the cooperating teachers who work with the interns.
Not providing such training to teachers this year, Ms. Major-Foster says, was "a big mistake," particularly for teachers who were themselves new to the profession.
"We came in with the idea that we would let teachers and interns decide how to integrate the interns" into the school system, she explains. But when the program begins on a larger scale next year, she adds, "we want to control the discussion so the intern does not look bad at the beginning of the school year."
Students who begin the program in the fall also will be taught teaching strategies right away. In the pilot program, such strategies were not discussed until students already had finished courses in adolescent development and reading and writing, Ms. Major-Foster says.
As groups of interns finish the program and land teaching jobs in Maine, the university plans to follow their progress for five years to study the effectiveness of the experimental preparation program, according to Ms. Miller of usm.
The university, which organized a new, 17-member teacher-education faculty from its existing group of undergraduate and graduate professors, has a large stake in seeing that the new program produces more successful teachers.
Faculty members without tenure have thrown their lot behind clinical teacher education, which traditionally has not generated the type of research articles required for promotion.
"I've staked my professional future on teacher education," says Walter Kimball, an assistant professor who is coordinating the program at Gorham. "I'm willing to do that."
Educators here also are mindful of the state's dramatic budget deficit and are fearful that their programs may be cut just as they are trying to fundamentally alter their approach.
The university has not been able to increase its budget to provide the money needed to phase out the old teacher-education program and begin the new school-based one at the same time. The Unum grant will help to offset those costs, the dean says.
But faculty members remain mindful of the budget cuts and know that success will help the college fight them.
"The first thing we have to do is raise the question of how our graduates will be any different," says Lee Goldsberry, an associate professor. "And if we cannot document that, we don't deserve more money."