MLFTC launches Professional Pathways for education students

MLFTC launches Professional Pathways for education students
July 24, 2019

Building on the success and strong reputation of its teacher preparation program, known as iTeachAZ, ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is moving on to its next generation of teacher-prep, which the college is calling MLFTC Professional Pathways

The change, says MLFTC Dean Carole Basile, is in more than a name. The college has been working with its school and district partners to redesign professional experiences like internships and residencies in schools. “The goal,” says Basile, “has been to create a strong, practice-driven approach to how we can make teacher preparation work better for our students, for our partner schools and for learners in those schools.”

iTeachAZ: A triumph of immersion at scale

Since the fall of 2011, when iTeachAZ began, MLFTC’s teacher-prep program was notable largely for the fact that it required undergraduate seniors in the college’s teacher prep program to conduct a yearlong residency in a school and that it paired each student with a mentor teacher. This was known as the 1-to-1 model. 

The residency program drew national recognition and praise. It was rigorous. It provided a lot of support for ASU students. And it was big. 

Not only did each senior have a dedicated mentor teacher, but the college placed faculty as site coordinators in districts and charter organizations. In a given year, the college might have had over 1,000 students working in more than 500 schools in 30 districts. 

Robert Morse, MLFTC’s executive director of professional experiences, oversees MLFTC Professional Pathways and played many roles in the development of iTeachAZ. “We had so many successes with iTeachAZ,” he says. “Schools loved having our students in their buildings for a full year. Principals and hiring managers told us they felt like they were getting a second-year teacher when they hired our graduates.

“With Professional Pathways, we’re confident they will feel the same way — maybe even more so.”

Moving to a team-based model

The main innovation of MLFTC Professional Pathways is that, instead of hewing to the 1-to-1 mentor model, the college is working with school partners to form teams of certified teachers and teacher candidates working across multiple classrooms under the leadership of an experienced lead teacher.

By putting teacher candidates in teams, Morse says, the college is strengthening the systems of support they receive in their internships and residencies. 

“Students will still have plenty of time as the only adult presence in a room full of learners,” says Morse. “But they will also have the experience of teamwork, group reflection and group problem-solving. No student will be on an island. They’ll have peers. That’s not just camaraderie. That’s multiple points of view and different perspectives on how to understand and address challenges. Now our students, beginning in their junior year,will have access to more experienced teachers all the time. They’ll work with and learn from experienced colleagues. They’ll be exposed to and interact with a wider range of professionals. The big difference here is that our teacher candidates will be exposed to more and solely responsible for less.”

The ASU teacher candidates will consult with each other and their lead teacher, as well as ASU faculty members working in districts as site leads who will provide coaching and support to the teams. 

Nicole Thompson directs MLFTC’s Division of Teacher Preparation. She says the site leads serve a vital function in connecting the experiences teacher candidates have in schools to the ASU curriculum and coursework. “Site leads are in a position to see patterns in the challenges faced by our teams. In our first pilots of this model, we saw site leads bring news from their sites back to our faculty and work with them to make curricular changes to better prepare students to face those challenges in their internships and residencies. So the structure of MLFTC Professional Pathways will allow us to get better at aligning our curricula with the realities of the field.” 

MLFTC Professional Pathways includes both residencies and internships. Residents are MLFTC seniors or graduate students serving in teaching roles required for them to receive an institutional recommendation from ASU, which the university provides to the Arizona Department of Education as part of the state certification process. Interns are juniors and others serving in other key roles that schools co-create with the college. Initially, notes Morse, most teams will be made up of residents. But there will be teams of interns, as well as blended teams of interns and residents. 

In the 2018–19 academic year, MLFTC had 52 students in two districts arrayed in teams. In the 2019–20 academic year, more than 300 students will work in teams across 11 districts.

Under iTeachAZ, teacher candidates were placed in a 1-to-1 mentor-teacher candidate model.

Under MLFTC Professional Pathways, teacher candidates collaborate in teams, across classrooms and operate in multiple instructional modes.

Why change?

“iTeachAZ was successful,” says Basile. “However, based on our understanding, from research and from our own experience in so many schools, we wanted to see if we could use our size and the strength of our partnerships to advance the profession.” 

Basile points out that, even as iTeachAZ was earning national recognition, the structural problems in Arizona’s education workforce persisted. ASU graduated hundreds of teachers a year. And still, every fall saw more reports about teacher attrition and teacher shortage in Arizona. 

Indeed, although MLFTC saw an uptick in undergraduate enrollment in 2018–19, teacher preparation data maintained by the United States Department of Education reports that enrollment in teacher-prep programs declined by 35% nationally and by 25% in Arizona between 2011 and 2016. 

“What we’re doing with Professional Pathways doesn’t just reflect our view on teacher preparation,” says Basile. “It reflects our broader view on education. It aligns with what we call the Next Education Workforce initiative. We won’t solve the teacher shortage if we just look at the supply side. We have to do that, and we’re committed to it. But we also have to come at this from the demand side. Why don’t enough people want to do these jobs or stay in these jobs? How can we change that?” 

Answering her own question, Basile says, “The job of being a teacher is difficult in specific ways. Pay matters. But the challenges go deeper than that. And many — maybe most — of them have to do with the isolation our system has traditionally foisted upon teachers.

“It’s hard being all things to 30 young human beings all day. That’s what we were asking our teacher candidates to do. Even successful veteran teachers probably spend too much time as the single adult in a classroom full of learners. So why were we making that the dominant teaching modality for our preservice and novice teachers?”

Professional Pathways, says Basile, represents an opportunity to leverage MLFTC’s presence in schools to improve the teacher candidate experience of ASU students and to expand the possibilities of what leadership roles in schools can be. 

“For example, we’re very excited about the Lead Teacher role,” says Basile, noting that it was hard to find a great 1-to-1 mentor for each teacher candidate. “We can be a bit more selective now about who we think is a great model for our students. That’s good. Beyond that, part of making this profession more attractive and part of retaining people in it has to be creating pathways for career advancement that do not necessitate removing great teachers from teaching roles and direct contact with learners. The new lead teacher role, in which we will see many of our alumni, by the way, is a great start down that important path.”

By putting teams of education students at the center of MLFTC Professional Pathways, Basile says, the college is setting some meaningful objectives for its teacher-prep program:

  • Encourage agency and efficacy in teachers
  • Deliver the rewards and satisfactions of adult collaboration and multiple perspectives in a professional setting
  • Create opportunities for ASU teacher candidates to deliver personalized instruction and attention to more learners
  • For P-12 learners to be surrounded by more adults equipped with the expertise they need

Basile says it all boils down to elevating the profession. “This is all about making the job more rewarding for educators while improving learning outcomes and experiences for the learners they serve.”