As demographics, families and schools continuously change, educators face new challenges to close the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students. Minnesota’s achievement gap is among the largest in the nation. To better prepare aspiring teachers for the challenges they face in current and future classrooms, 14 institutions in Minnesota (including the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development), North Dakota and South Dakota are working together on a 10-year project, Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI), to improve high school graduation rates and reduce disparities in student achievement.
With funding from the Bush Foundation’s Network for Excellence in Teaching (NExT), TERI represents a dynamic shift in traditional methods of preparing and licensing new teachers. One component is co-teaching. Instead of ten weeks spent slowly phasing into solo student teaching, students in early childhood and elementary education licensure programs are now spending an entire year co-teaching alongside an experienced teacher. During the first half of the year, every two weeks of co-teaching is alternated with two weeks in UMN CEHD classrooms where methods of teaching specific content areas are taught. Fall 2011 marked the first academic year of co-teaching for 90 CEHD students preparing for K-6 licensure at a total of 25 schools in nine districts.
In our recent Connect Magazine issue, we highlighted experiences from the first group of teacher candidates to participate in co-teaching, including Liz Kurkowski. Kurkowski spent her days with fifth-grade students at Earle Brown Elementary School and teacher Mike Zwick. She commented on her experience, “This allows me to understand my philosophy of teaching a lot better. You can see how you change as a teacher based on what your students need. I’m a lot quicker to adapt now.” While TERI aims to help future teachers, student achievement remains the ultimate goal. With co-teaching “students get more interaction with the teacher,” observed Zwick. Co-teaching also fosters mentorship between veteran and future teachers through joint lesson planning and classroom management as well as constructive feedback.
Current teachers from partner schools were excited to work with CEHD students and provide them the chance to interact with students from diverse backgrounds and development stages. At Pillsbury Elementary School in Minneapolis, principal Laura Cavender praised CEHD students for their expertise and engagement saying, “The students from the U are top-notch. I’d like to hire all of them!”
To evaluate TERI’s success, data is being collected from teacher candidates through an exit survey, a survey at the end of their first year of teaching, a survey from their first employer and value-added data based on student achievement scores on tests after three years of classroom teaching experience. Check back for updates on TERI as the program continues to help improve lives of students, faculty and communities.
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Image Credit: Greg Helgeson
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