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Published in Print: October 2, 2002, as Kansas City Turns Classrooms Over to Interns

Kansas City Turns Classrooms Over to Interns

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Nine student-teachers have gotten a jump on their initial year in the classroom with full-time teaching positions in the Kansas City, Mo., public schools.

The 21,000-student district has signed the college seniors for a two-year commitment as one way of addressing a worsening teacher shortage. The interns are slated to graduate from state universities this December.

"It's a pilot program, but it's helped attract some students who were reluctant at first to work in the district," said Cathy Dennis, the director of professional development for the district. "The good part is ... they get a lot of support."

The arrangement, which has the backing of the Missouri education department, includes several levels of assistance in and out of the classroom, as well as monetary incentives. The interns will receive full-time pay for the two years and live rent-free this year in the same apartment building, some sharing apartments.

They are paired with veteran teachers who each serve as mentors to two interns and spend about half of each school day observing and helping the trainees. The accomplished teachers advise their inexperienced colleagues on lesson design and delivery, as well as discipline, classroom management, and communication with parents.

A teacher-educator observes the novice teachers at least once a week and provides regular group and individual feedback.

"Because they're living together, it has turned out to be a very strong support group," said Jean Bouas, an associate professor of education at Northwest Missouri State University, in Maryville. Ms. Bouas has an office in the students' apartment building and holds office hours and seminars there throughout the week.

Praise and Caution

State officials gave their blessing to the experiment by waiving a requirement that teachers hold a bachelor's degree. The state will be watching closely to see how the interns do before encouraging the district to expand the program, a spokesman for the education department said.

The Missouri National Education Association also supports the program. "This is a much better way to have teacher mentoring and induction," said Chris Guinther, the vice president of the Missouri NEA. "This is truly job-embedded support for the new teachers, and also gives them the peer support they need."

The district hopes to expand the program to 40 interns over the next few years. Such an expansion would require a significant commitment of financial and human resources. While housing and some other costs are paid for with grants from local foundations, the district pays the salaries of the intern and veteran teachers.

Kansas City's arrangement might also run afoul of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, which requires that all teachers have a bachelor's degree, among other qualifications, by the end of the 2005-06 school year. But state officials hope that if the program proves successful, the state will get federal approval to continue it.

The interns receive significantly more support than other new teachers, district officials said. The Kansas City district hires between 200 and 250 new teachers each year, many of them entering the profession through alternative methods of licensure. While those new teachers also work with veterans, the mentors divide their time among many more recruits.

Despite the beefed-up support system, one expert questioned whether the interns might be better prepared by spending their first year working with a veteran teacher as the lead teacher in the classroom. That expert, Barnett Berry, the executive director of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, also said that the interns should be encouraged to commit to teaching in the schools for a longer period.

"These schools need more than anything else a well-prepared, stable faculty who can work with each other for at least four or five years to turn the school around in ways that produce meaningful learning gains for the kids," Mr. Berry said by e-mail last week. The center he heads, located in Chapel Hill, N.C., is affiliated with the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

"Two-year teaching commitments," Mr. Berry continued, "are insufficient for long-term school improvement and promote the devastating teacher 'churn' that works against what the students really need."

District officials say that, so far, the program is a success.

Vol. 22, Issue 5, Page 5

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