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School districts and education schools share the same goals with respect to prospective teachers. Districts are under enormous pressure to hire teachers who are trained to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Colleges want to offer programs that assure future teachers will be able to handle the challenges of today’s classrooms. So how can we overcome the disconnect often found between the preparation of new teachers and the tasks that await them in their future jobs?
In my diverse metropolitan school district, we’ve turned to partnership and teacher leadership as an important part of the solution.
For two years the Wake County, North Carolina, school district has worked closely with Peace College, a well-respected private institution in Raleigh, to design a new teacher education program. Our joint initiative is fast becoming a model collaborative effort between a college and future employers.
As an experienced elementary education teacher, curriculum specialist, and National Board-certified teacher, I was invited to be on the design team to provide a teacher’s perspective and to help lead the effort to incorporate National Board standards into the program. In my role as coordinator of the district’s programs for initially licensed teachers and for National Board-certified teachers, I was well aware of the challenges new teachers face in today’s classrooms and the desire of accomplished teachers to share their expertise.
In our redesigned program, graduates of the Peace College teacher-education program are eligible for dual licensure in both elementary education (K-6) and special education (K-12). As we began implementation, I was asked to undertake a new role as liaison to the college in our partnership. So I now wear two hats. I continue to coordinate our National Board certification program, and I serve on the faculty at the college, teaching elementary methods courses and taking the student interns into our higher needs elementary schools for extensive practical experiences.
This strategy not only provides extra one-on-one instruction for students, it offers our interns the opportunity to work in-depth with diverse student populations. As an added bonus, my connection with many of our district’s most accomplished teachers enables me to arrange opportunities for these role models to share their teaching repertoire with our upcoming generation of classroom teachers.
Bridging the Divide
Getting used to a position on a higher education faculty was challenging and sometimes a little intimidating for a middle-aged elementary school teacher. But I soon came to see that I was the expert in my field. With 18 years of teaching experience, I knew more than anyone on campus about how to model effective teaching strategies for elementary education. My uneasiness was quickly replaced by a willingness to laugh at myself as I learned my way around this new world.
One icebreaker occurred at the beginning of my first term. This particular college has formal opening ceremonies that include a faculty march. I purchased the recommended regalia for the occasion, donning the gown and hood appropriate for the master’s level. As I entered the pre-ceremony gathering place and looked around, I noticed most everyone was wearing a soft, round hat, which signifies doctoral level. I’ll admit I suffered a moment of hat envy—something only more education and writing a dissertation could cure. But I walked in the processional with great pride.
The most exciting thing about my job as partnership liaison is working with the teacher interns. First we explore the content, reviewing information they may have forgotten. Then I model effective ways to present information so students can understand. We begin with introductory activities and then advance in complexity from kindergarten to grade six so they can see the development and the step-by-step supports that must be in place for students to remember, truly understand, and be able to solve problems and apply their learning in other situations.
As a teacher leader who frequently crosses the bridge between school district and college, I stay connected to the real world of public elementary education, and I bring my expertise into the college setting. By going with my students into our schools for extensive field experiences, I stay in tune with what is current and fresh in education. I watch my interns interact with the students in the partner classrooms, and we have rich discussions in our methods classes about things we observed while in the schools. When I have a content question, I am surrounded by college experts who can help clarify it for me. I have one foot in each camp and I feel comfortable, accepted, and respected by both groups.
My fervent hope is that we will see many more collaborative efforts like this across the nation—efforts that meld the deep content knowledge of professors with the practical experiences and methodologies of teachers. In my own situation, by wearing new and different hats, we are combining our expertise to meet the needs of novice teachers who are entering the profession during very challenging times.