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Student teaching experience undergoes radical redesign

December 01, 2010

The traditional student teaching experience involving a single semester of placement in a school is becoming a thing of the past at Arizona State University. A pilot program, now under way in three partner school districts across metropolitan Phoenix, places cohorts of teacher candidates in schools for a full academic year. Students take their university teacher preparation classes on-site while gaining significantly more experience as a classroom teacher under the guidance of mentor teachers and university site coordinators.

This collaborative teaching experience will be incorporated into all bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood, elementary and special education next fall. It serves as the culmination of ASU’s teacher preparation programs, now known collectively by the name iTeachAZ.

“To produce graduates who are ready to be successful teachers from their first day on the job, it is increasingly important for colleges of education to develop fully involved partnerships with school districts,” said Nancy Perry, assistant dean of clinical services for ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “We see iTeachAZ as a classic win-win situation. Future teachers spend more time in classrooms with experienced mentors, and partner schools benefit from the additional instructional support supplied by our talented, enthusiastic students.”

Districts participating in the pilot program are the West Valley’s Dysart Unified School District, Tempe-based Kyrene School District, and Scottsdale Unified School District.

“All children deserve to have the very best teacher, and this need can’t be compromised while someone is learning how to perform this highly complex and challenging job,” said David Schauer, Kyrene’s superintendent.

“The iTeachAZ program requires student teachers to follow the school district calendar for an entire year, participate with the staff in the daily activities of the school and work closely with a highly successful mentor teacher,” Schauer said. “ASU provides a supervisor who has an office right in the school. Professional development and course work are provided on site. By the time the year is finished, it will almost be like these student teachers have had an entire year of teaching experience, and they should be well-equipped to take on the responsibilities of a classroom teaching assignment.”

Alissa Koerner, ASU’s site coordinator in the Kyrene district, echoed Schauer’s comments regarding the benefits for students of involvement in a school setting throughout a full academic year.

“ASU students get a much better idea of the big picture and how a real teacher sets up his or her classroom, sets behavior expectations for students, and creates a sense of community,” Koerner said. “And because we’re site-based, our pedagogy coursework is applicable and relevant. Our students get to see and practice what they are learning in their university classes.”

Teachers College also is revamping its curriculum in disciplines including math, science, social studies and English for students preparing for their iTeachAZ experience. The college is working with ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, among other colleges across the university, to develop new and enhanced discipline-based courses specifically for future teachers. This coursework provides important background for students’ pedagogy courses and, in combination, sets the stage for their successful classroom practices.

During their yearlong collaborative teaching experience, students work in pairs in classrooms with an experienced mentor teacher. This practice of paired placements is designed to build teacher candidates’ sense of efficacy and collegiality. “We want them to be in the habit of working collaboratively with colleagues when they graduate,” Perry said.

Shayna Green is one of the students currently enrolled in the pilot iTeachAZ program at El Mirage Elementary School in the Dysart district. Her mentor is third-grade teacher Trisha Lytle.

“Having the opportunity to spend this school year working alongside an amazing mentor, who has given me the chance to apply what I have learned, is an invaluable experience,” Green said. “While this program has been challenging for me, I have grown so much as an individual and as a future teacher. I have no doubt that this experience has given me so many tools and skills that will make me an effective teacher when I step into my first very own classroom.”

“Even after completing a traditional program, first-year teachers are still typically unprepared,” said Lytle, Green’s mentor teacher. “The reason has to do with experience. Many things just cannot be learned from books and lectures. In iTeachAZ, our teacher candidates are there every step of the way throughout the school year. They receive constant feedback and will leave this program not only confident and qualified, but much more desirable to school districts that are hiring.”

Kyrene’s Schauer also commented on the competitive advantages of iTeachAZ graduates in the job market. “It would be my hope that we could hire many of them for vacant teaching positions, and I have complete confidence that they would be highly successful in our school district,” he said.

Located on all four ASU campuses and offering programs in communities across Arizona, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College prepares successful and highly qualified PreKindergarten-12th grade teachers. Teachers College also offers programs for those interested in advanced study and research activities leading to careers in fields including school leadership, school and educational psychology, education policy, education technology, and higher and post-secondary education. More information is available at