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Redesigned student teaching experience set to grow

May 11, 2011

A radical redesign of the student teaching process is expanding at Arizona State University. A successful pilot program in three Phoenix-area school districts has paved the way for ASU’s iTeachAZ teacher preparation model to grow to more than a dozen partner districts and additional teacher certification programs during the 2011/12 academic year.

The iTeachAZ program, the only one of its kind in Arizona, significantly increases the amount of time future teachers spend in classroom internships. Students from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College engage in a senior-year residency for a full year of student teaching rather than the traditional one-semester model. During that year, they spend four days per week in school classrooms, working collaboratively with mentor teachers and fellow students, and one day per week taking Teachers College pedagogy classes delivered by full-time ASU faculty in partner school districts.

The 2010/11 iTeachAZ pilot program was conducted with elementary education majors placed in schools in the Dysart Unified, Scottsdale Unified and Kyrene School Districts.

“Collaborating and co-teaching with a supportive mentor while gaining hundreds of hours of real-time experience has allowed me the opportunity to grow immensely, both personally and professionally,” said Shayna Green, who just completed her iTeachAZ experience in a third grade classroom at El Mirage Elementary School in the Dysart District. “It is amazing to essentially experience my first year of teaching with such a strong support system.”

Green’s mentor teacher at El Mirage was Trish Lytle. “This has been an extremely rewarding experience not only because it has made me more reflective of my own teaching, but also because I’ve had a positive effect in the transformation of our future educators,” Lytle said.

For 2011/12, students majoring in special education, early childhood education and diversity in language and literacy also will participate. Districts being added include Balsz, Higley, Tempe Elementary, Madison, Littleton, Murphy, Mesa, Roosevelt, Deer Valley, Gilbert and Phoenix Elementary, along with the ASU Preparatory Academy at the university’s Polytechnic campus. Current plans call for iTeachAZ to expand to secondary education programs in the 2012/13 school year.

Making a positive impact in the PreK-12 classroom is one of the key goals of iTeachAZ, said Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College. “We want to produce better-prepared teachers while also increasing student achievement in our partner districts. We are grateful to those districts for their willingness to work collaboratively with us in this effort to transform teacher education,” Koerner said.

“As we continue to make changes in the educational system to better meet the needs of 21st century learners, providing pre-service experiences that look more like apprenticeships is a giant leap forward,” said David Schauer, superintendent of the Kyrene District. “Student teachers who are full-time ‘residents’ in schools receive authentic and valuable experiences that enhance their knowledge and skills. With iTeachAZ, new teachers already have a solid year of experience that almost negates the ‘new teacher’ label. Mentor teachers also benefit through engaging in professional development and dialog about real work with real students in a classroom.”

The roots of iTeachAZ date to 2000, when Teachers College implemented a Professional Development School (PDS) program placing education majors at a school in Phoenix’s Osborn School District. PDS expanded to additional districts across metropolitan Phoenix and Arizona. More recently, the college’s relationship with Teach For America has made an impact on the structure of iTeachAZ.

The Sanford Education Project, a collaboration between Teach For America and Teachers College, is creating a new two-semester student teaching course based on Teach For America’s best practices in training and supporting new teachers. Eight new full-time instructors with experience at Teach For America will serve as lead teachers of this course in partnership with other ASU faculty members.

“Teacher candidates in iTeachAZ will learn how to set a vision and goals for student learning, help students feel invested in their learning goals, and work relentlessly to achieve those goals,” said Andrea Stouder Pursley, executive director of the Sanford Education Project.

“By the time they graduate, teacher candidates will have already positively impacted student learning, and they will have practiced the long-term and short-term planning and execution skills necessary to achieve big goals,” Stouder Pursley said. “This ‘Teaching As Leadership’ framework for effective teaching is built on both research from the broader field of education and on specific studies over 20 years focusing on Teach For America’s most successful teachers.”

Teachers College also has a framework in place to evaluate the effectiveness of iTeachAZ. The Teacher Preparation Research and Evaluation Project (T-PREP), established through an Arizona Community Foundation grant with Koerner as principal investigator, provides for longitudinal tracking of program graduates. T-PREP examines research questions including the effectiveness of Teachers College graduates compared to those from other certification programs or paths to teaching; which aspects of their education create the greatest impact on the teaching effectiveness of graduates; and which characteristics of teacher candidates contribute most to teacher effectiveness.

ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College offers a range of challenging undergraduate and graduate education programs that prepare highly qualified and successful teachers, leaders and researchers.