A new model of student teaching for a new education workforce

By

Erik Ketcherside

When 300 Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College students begin their senior-year residencies this fall, they will be embarking on a student teaching experience vastly different from what other teacher preparation programs offer. MLFTC is pioneering a new approach to preparing teachers for the education workforce: team-based professional internships and apprenticeships.

Last fall, the college worked with the Avondale and Pendergast Elementary districts to develop team-based professional experiences for 52 ASU students. For the 2019–20 school year, 10 more districts throughout metropolitan Phoenix are working with MLFTC to provide team-based professional experiences for nearly all the college’s fourth-year teacher candidates.

Traditionally, student teaching meant placing one aspiring educator in a mentored relationship with one experienced teacher; what Robert Morse calls the “one-mentor, one-teacher candidate model.” Morse is executive director of professional experiences for MLFTC, the person charged with overseeing the college’s professional experiences for future educators.

“Now we’re building teams of students — three students per team, in Avondale — working under the supervision of a lead certified teacher and serving around 60 kids,” says Morse. “The whole team, MLFTC students and the lead teachers, has the support of our site coordinators. These are faculty members from our college who regularly assess whether our students are meeting the requirements of the program, serving the learning needs of their students, and developing as professional teachers.”

Carole Basile, dean of the teachers college, says, “We developed this model to address one of our strategic initiatives: How should we develop and deploy a 21st-century education workforce? Through this model we piloted with our Avondale and Pendergast partners, we can now point to the benefits team teaching offers.”

Basile says team teaching is:

  • Better for MLFTC  teacher candidates, offering more professional rewards, including adult collaborative experiences and teamwork.

  • Better for the students they teach, allowing for more effective delivery of personalized learning and individual attention.

  • Better for schools and districts as they prototype more effective ways to deploy all their educators, not just teacher candidates.

Turn of the century 

Kelly Owen has seen student teaching both ways. As a clinical assistant professor who served as a site coordinator for MLFTC’s former iTeachAZ model, she supervised between 18 and 30 teacher candidates, each of them placed in a one-to-one relationship with a mentor. “They would spend a full year in a classroom with that mentor teacher,” Owen says, “seeing the school year from start to finish but never really being in charge of the classroom or getting a wider view of what goes on their schools.”

This year, Owen was one of the site coordinators for the pilot at Copper Trails School. And while preparations for implementing the new model had been going on for months, Owen says the week before school started in the fall was much different this year. “Because that’s when a first-year teacher would report for work, that's when our teacher candidates reported for work,” Owen says. “During that week, sometimes they were in the district’s professional development sessions and sometimes they were in rooms working with our clinical assistant professors.”

Rachael Moore was one of them. She’ll graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Education (Bilingual Education/English as a Second Language) after completing her senior-year residency at Copper Trails. She says that, because the members of her team were starting the year with the same responsibilities and challenges of any first-year, full-time classroom teacher, they learned the value of the model right away. Moore says, “Having my trio there, my two other student teachers who are in their senior year as well, I can talk to them and we can get through this together.”

Moore also learned to value the relationship between her TC team members and Copper Trails second-grade teacher Jennifer Byron, who served as the lead teacher for the three MLFTC students. “My lead teacher was extremely helpful,” Moore says. “Our team allows us to have lots of small groups between the four teachers of the two classes, and that's one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Byron agrees. “On any normal day, my TCs and I are constantly rotating between the two classrooms and working with each other in different capacities, then working with students in small groups. The lead teacher and the teacher candidates all work together really well to make each other better teachers.”

Owen says she saw the benefits of the model almost immediately. “Usually it takes a while for a teacher candidate to start seeing their self as a person in charge of children,” Owen says. “They’re still seniors in college. But what happens very quickly now is our teacher candidates start prioritizing children. They have to, because they’re in charge of getting their classes up and running. They got very mature very fast. They were talking like teachers in September.”

As promising as team teaching may have been, even early in the year, only one person would have to answer for its success or failure — to parents, to team members, and to students at the school: the principal.

Proof of concept

Stacy Ellis is completing her sixth year as principal at Copper Trails. She's clear about her expectations and priorities for the team-teaching model in her school.

“When I walk into any of those classrooms,” Ellis says, “I need to see things that are supporting the teacher candidates’ learning. But the priority is supporting the students in that classroom. So I'm expecting to see someone working with the lead teacher — either watching the lead teacher teach or the lead teacher observing the teacher candidate while writing feedback. I'm also expecting to see small-group learning, so the other two candidates are splitting the kids up so they're able to facilitate instruction at different levels throughout the day.”

Ellis says not only has she appreciated the benefits of instruction that can be tailored to smaller groups of students, but the parents in her school community have, too. “A lot of parents really like knowing there are multiple adults in that classroom,” she says. “They like seeing the level of differentiation in the small groups their kids are able to participate in that they would not be able to do in a normal classroom.”