A semester-long student teaching program being used at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is providing an in-depth classroom experience that helps teacher candidates quickly adapt to the classroom and better prepare for the day-to-day realities of teaching.
The Teacher in Residency (TIR) program is a partnership with the Appleton Area School District (AASD) where highly qualified student teachers are placed at elementary, middle and high schools during the fall semester. Twenty-four senior education majors have gone through the program since it started in fall 2010.
“The experience in the program was wonderful,” said Lindsea Nieuwenkamp, a Rapid River, Mich. native who graduated from UW Oshkosh in December with a degree in early/middle childhood education and worked in a sixth-grade classroom for her student teaching experience. “I didn’t feel like I was a student teacher. I felt like I was an additional teacher for the sixth-grade.”
Caitlin Reinke, an early elementary major from Bonduel, who also just graduated, had a similar experience during her time in a third-grade class.
“My experience has been great. I felt like I was actually a member of the school community,” she said. “I have a more realistic view of what teaching is really like because of the reality of the program.”
It started with an idea
The TIR program was developed from an idea by Lee Allinger, AASD superintendent, which stemmed from his own student teaching experience. He was an elementary education major and the university had a coordinator at the school site for his full semester of student teaching. The coordinator regularly met with the student teachers about instructional practice and provided non-evaluative feedback on what was observed as the student teachers taught lessons.
“Professional learning comes where people are conferring, thinking about the act of instruction,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to consistently talk about the science and art of good classroom teaching and I wondered if we could shape a similar experience at AASD.”
So, Allinger took the idea to Fred Yeo, dean of the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services, and the college’s director of field placement, MaryBeth Petesch. The idea was then turned into reality through collaboration between the College and AASD administrators.
How the TIR program works
Unlike the College’s long-standing current student teaching program, which is similar to almost all of the other such programs in the state, the students spends an entire semester at the one school.
Student teachers begin their 18-week placements before the official first day of school, and engage in all activities and instruction assigned to their supervising teacher, which is a key to the program. In addition, they have opportunities for compensated school duties, such as recess and lunch supervision, and opportunities to teach in other classrooms to get a grasp teaching other content areas.
The student teachers are mentored not only by a cooperating teacher, but by department chairs and school administrators, including experiencing evaluations similar to a first year teacher. The program also includes additional coaching / mentoring provided by a coordinator whose role is to observe, critique and advise each student throughout the semester.
“It’s an important role,” said Nancy Scheuerman, TIR coordinator. “As the teacher candidates can confide in me about concerns without fear of being judged as inadequate. We work out any issues they may encounter that they may be uncomfortable discussing with other supervisors.”
A retired AASD administrator, Scheuerman brings the perspective of a building administrator to her role. She meets twice a month with the TIR students, facilitates classroom observations four times during the semester and facilitates four professional development seminars with AASD administrators about best practices in teaching, which helps them understand how learning methods fit into every school day.
In gathering feedback from both the student teachers and the cooperating teachers in the TIR program, Scheuerman said that all feel the program is well worth the extra time and effort and prepares the candidates to step into the role of new teacher with confidence.
“The TIR program presents teacher candidates with a rich, in-depth classroom experience and an opportunity to become an integral part of the professional staff in the school,” Petesch said. “This unique program is a wonderful opportunity for student teachers to become quickly and firmly entrenched in the art and science of classroom teaching and to become personally and professionally invested in the school building community.”
“Our hope is that students gain a better understanding of all the demands of the profession, and thus are better prepared when they have a classroom of their own,” said Greg Hartjes, principal at Appleton West High School, who had a hand in developing the TIR program.
“The job of a teacher is much more than just presenting material to students in the classroom setting. Teachers spend time developing curriculum, supervising the commons or other area of school, tutoring students, contacting parents, etc.,” he said.
A positive experience
In its second year, Allinger said the program exceeded expectations.
“The students get a more rigorous view of what a teaching job is like, because they are there from the start. They participate in setting school goals, attend parent conferences, serve on committees — they get the total experience of what being a teacher really is,” Allinger said.
The program has been very successful, with all 15 students from the 2010 program acquiring teaching positions with districts in a difficult year for hiring. Of the 2011 TIR participants, one has already been hired in the AASD, with others substitute teaching or being hired in other districts.
“What I have learned about myself in this experience is I can connect well with my students,” said Nieuwenkamp. “And with that, my lessons are meaningful and authentic and I know how to interact with the students in the most effective ways when I teach. Overall, I learned why I am a teacher.”
“It was been hard with expectations of us set high, and our responsibilities larger, but as a result I truly feel I am ready to have my own classroom,” said Reinke.
The next set of TIR program student teachers will begin their duties with the AASD in the fall 2012.