Student teachers key to boosting classroom achievement across Tennessee

Whitney Elliott_Norris_ElementaryWhen Tennessee Tech University graduate Lauren Murphy steps into her fifth-grade classroom this fall to teach, it will not be the first time.
 
With a year of student teaching, mentoring and supervision behind her, Murphy is ready to teach at Clinton Elementary School. While the hard work and passion are Murphy’s alone, her preparation for the classroom is evidence that Tennessee Tech’s renewed focus on teacher readiness is making strides as well.
 
As part of continuing efforts to better prepare future teachers for success in the classroom, TTU’s College of Education has joined the Expect More, Achieve More coalition. The partnership of school districts, universities, community organizations and businesses across the state is one more part of the plan to raise educational standards in Tennessee.
 
An initiative of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the purpose of Expect More, Achieve More is to build support for Tennessee’s efforts to make sure every student graduates high school prepared for college and the workforce.  
 
“The coalition’s goals align perfectly with our ongoing efforts to comprehensively redesign teacher preparation programs through Ready2Teach,” said Matthew Smith, dean of the TTU College of Education. “We appreciate the efforts by SCORE to provide us with a framework for moving the educational reform effort forward in Tennessee.”
 
Ready2Teach will be fully implemented at TTU this fall, signaling changes for students in the teacher education program. Colleges of education across the state have been piloting Ready2Teach since 2011.
 
“We have restructured the teacher education program at TTU completely in order to prepare teacher candidates for the 21st century classroom,” Smith said. “It is a more demanding program than has been required in Tennessee in the past.”
 
Applicants for TTU’s teacher education program face higher admission standards and must interview for a spot in the program. Once enrolled, students must earn a B grade in most courses and complete a full year of student teaching, or residency.
 
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has named Tennessee’s proactive effort a model program in the Initiative to Transform Teacher Preparation.
 
Ready2Teach will address many of the concerns highlighted in recent teacher quality reports from the state and in an upcoming Teacher Prep Review by the National Council on Teacher Quality. These reports rely on data from years past, before the pilot Ready2Teach programs began.
 
“The goal of Ready2Teach is to have teachers ready for their own classroom on day one,” said Smith.
 
Murphy’s residency experience certainly prepared her for the challenges and joys of teaching. She and her mentor teacher, Dana Denton, became so close they started dressing alike. They will continue to work together this fall, but as colleagues.
 
“We will plan our language arts and social studies lessons together,” said Murphy, of Oak Ridge. “I really could not have asked for a better experience for residency, and I’m so thankful to get to continue at this school with the awesome teachers here.”
 
Principals across the state who rely on student teachers say the residency requirement is a significant factor in preparing teachers for the classroom.
 
Jess Anne Cole, principal at Norris Elementary School, said the year of residency benefits not only the student teacher, but the entire school staff.
 
“It’s a huge benefit to have them here all year,” Cole said. “They know the students as well as the teachers do. They feel like part of our team, and they leave better prepared.”
 
Six TTU student teachers were placed at Norris Elementary this spring.
 
Sharon Daniels, principal at Glenn L. Martin Elementary School in Crossville, has seen student teachers develop necessary classroom skills during their year of residency. Five Tennessee Tech student teachers were in her school this spring.
 
“The students really are taking on the role of teacher,” said Daniels. “We see them taking on more challenges in the classroom. They are more confident and comfortable, and they are able to handle behavior management issues because they are given respect in the classroom.”
 
A full year of residency is important, Daniels said, as student teachers need several weeks to get used to the class schedule, to understand the teacher’s standards and teaching style, and to learn basic software programs for recording grades and attendance. Student teachers also are exposed to mandatory teacher evaluations, so they learn what to expect of the state’s review process.
 
When student teachers struggle with the adjustments, they turn to the classroom teacher and their supervising Tennessee Tech faculty member for direction.
 
“I have seen more Tennessee Tech supervisors in my building this year than ever before,” Daniels said. “The cooperation among Martin teachers, the TTU supervisors and the student teachers is strong. It’s a nice neat little package now, and together we are able to give the student teachers direction in areas where improvement is needed.”
 
Tennessee Tech placed 157 residents in 67 schools across Tennessee during the 2012-13 school year. Approximately 250 TTU students will be in residency this fall.