Teacher Preparation

Internships Hailed as Key Prescription for Teacher Training

By Jeanne Ponessa — April 23, 1997 7 min read
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Cincinnati

Up in front of her 7th grade science classroom at Shroder Middle School, Ronnie Casebolt looks just like a regular teacher. The students treat her like one. And, while she’s holding a model Earth and trying to explain the difference between rotation and revolution, she definitely acts the part.

But she’s not exactly a “regular” teacher. Not yet, at least.

Ms. Casebolt is serving out a yearlong teaching internship, the final step in the University of Cincinnati’s five-year teacher education program. During the internship, which is carried out in cooperation with the Cincinnati public schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, the prospective teachers are paid as regular half-time teachers at one of the district’s professional-practice schools. The interns work side by side with teaching veterans, who coach them and serve as mentors throughout the year.

That doesn’t mean that the students, or for that matter even many of the parents, know the difference between the interns and the “regular” teachers. In their eyes, “we’ve all been teachers from Day 1,” said Ms. Casebolt.

Known as the Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education, the program has won praise from teacher education reformers who seek to make the teacher-training process more like the clinical training that doctors receive.

In its report last September on the future of the teaching profession, the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future called for the establishment of preparation programs that provide a yearlong internship in a professional-development school. Graduates of extended preparation programs, according to the report, are rated as more effective by principals and teaching colleagues and are more likely to enter and stay in the profession. (“Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push,” Sept. 18, 1996.)

“Such internships permit integration of theoretical and practical learning, providing a much more compelling context for developing skilled and thoughtful practice,” the report’s authors wrote.

Teams in Training

The University of Cincinnati’s college of education officially switched over from a four-year to a five-year program in September 1990. The fifth-year students pursue coursework as well as serve a 36-week internship at one of 11 professional-practice schools around the city. The program graduated its first class of 75 students last year.

All graduates of the program earn two bachelor’s degrees: an education degree in either early childhood, elementary, or secondary education, and a second degree in a subject field. Graduates also earn some credits toward a master’s degree.

At the professional-practice schools, veteran teachers and interns are organized into teams. Interns receive guidance from a mentor-teacher as well as other teachers on the team. Each team also has a lead teacher, who is released from most teaching duties.

Because of a unique arrangement with the district and the teachers’ union, the interns are paid as part of the teaching staff. They each teach half of a regular courseload, in slots created by existing vacancies and from the slot vacated by the team’s lead teacher.

The district pays the lead teachers an additional $5,000, while the other mentor-teachers receive an extra $1,000. Depending on the availability of funds, the district pays the interns as much as half but no less than one-fourth of a beginning teacher’s salary.

The union’s participation was a critical element in making the program large-scale, said Tom Mooney, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. He said the reason many universities have not expanded such training opportunities beyond a single professional-development school is that the local teachers’ union has not been involved.

The Cincinnati district gives no commitment to the interns for future employment, although it recruits the interns it wants, said Superintendent J. Michael Brandt.

But the district and the union are so enthusiastic about the program that they say it’s worth the extra work and time. Each of the partners in the program was committed sufficiently to see it through obstacles such as budget crises, Mr. Brandt said. “To me it was a perfect example of teamwork,” he said. “We refused to let that program die.”

An Extra Year, a Leg Up

The interns also speak enthusiastically about the program. They welcome the experience that they have gained over an entire year, as opposed to what they would have learned in a traditional 10-week student-teaching regimen.

Nevertheless, an observer might wonder why students would choose to spend another year in school when they could be out earning money as full-fledged teachers.

Louis Castenell, the dean of UC’s college of education, says that the double degree provides graduates with lots of career flexibility. It also offers them the opportunity to become better teachers, he says.

“Most people who chose teaching as a career are much more concerned about being effective,” Mr. Castenell said. “If an extra year makes a difference, it’s worth it.”

For many of the interns, the hiring statistics are the most convincing factor. According to the university, more than 90 percent of the five-year program’s first graduates landed full-time teaching jobs.

John Martella, a 6th grade teacher at Vine Elementary School, was lucky enough to get hired by the same school at which he interned last year. When he was interviewing last spring, he said, he was in high demand because of his preservice experience. “I could have gone into any school and known what to do just because of my internship,” he said.

April Singleton, a fifth-year intern who is teaching 7th grade language arts at Shroder, said that the internship had helped her discover her own readiness to teach. “By the time you spend a year in a class that is yours, you know if you’re going to be able to cut it,” she said.

But some interns said that the timing of the coursework could be improved.

For example, Julie Enneking, an intern teaching 4th grade at Vine Elementary, said that she had taken a math-methods course five months after she started teaching math.

And Tracy Robinson, another intern teaching 4th grade at Vine Elementary, said that she wished she had gotten into an elementary classroom earlier in the program. “We didn’t see any of it really until the third year,” she said.

UC administrators say they are trying to balance those concerns with the requirements for the other bachelor’s degree. “We’re still trying to figure out how to break out of the boxes,” said Robert J. Yinger, the director of school-university partnership at UC who helped design the program.

Practice Makes Perfect

In the classroom, most of the interns run the show as smoothly as their more seasoned peers. In Missy Baudendistel’s Spanish class at the Hughes Center, a magnet high school, even the most restless students concentrate as she quickly steers the action from one task to the next.

And over at Shroder Middle School, Jason Ahlers’ 8th grade language arts class pays close attention to his lesson on dialogue while his mentor-teacher works quietly in the back of the room.

The only indication that Mr. Ahlers is an intern comes when he uses his own experience to explain the idea of paraphrasing: “I could say, for instance, ‘Ms. Riley told me before not to pace around so much,’” he says. “That’s different from me saying, ‘Ms. Riley told me, quote, Don’t pace around so much, unquote.’”

Yet, some of the other intern-run classes are not quite as polished. After one class got off to a particularly slow start, a veteran teacher later said that she would work with the intern on making the most of instructional time. In another class, when an intern misspelled a word on the board and appeared to give misinformation to students, an observing teacher did not take any immediate action.

Supporters emphasize that the interns are being observed and can get advice, as opposed to graduates from other programs with the same amount of experience who are on their own by this point. “Let’s face it--it’s an illusion to think that any of these [interns] are less prepared than we were as first-year teachers,” said Mr. Mooney, the CFT president.

Besides, said Sue Taylor, the professional-practice school coordinator at the Hughes Center, the teams of veteran teachers provide better quality control than the old student-teacher model did. “This avoids that isolating experience of being tied to just one teacher.”

The mentor-teachers said their only regret was the loss of the interns with whom they had worked so closely for an entire year.

Although the internship requires extra time and effort from the mentor-teachers, many said that they appreciated the opportunity because it gave them a rare chance to examine their own practices."Every time you see what’s going wrong, you know you’ve done it yourself,” said Barb Scholtz, a veteran teacher and team leader at Shroder. “I think it’s wonderful even though it sure makes you look at what you do.”

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