Tennessee Tech University education major Rosie Davis, of Crossville, begins her day at 7:30 a.m. as her 19 kindergarten students arrive at Martin Elementary School. She goes home only when the other teachers do – after staff meetings, extra after-school duties and preparations for the next day are complete.
In the students’ eyes, she is a full teacher, but in reality she is a senior in TTU’s 2+2 education program at Roane State Community College in Crossville. Her main academic commitment this semester, and again in the spring, is to make sure her students learn phonics, writing and math and are exposed to art, music and fun and games.
“We keep them busy; you have to make every minute count,” Davis said. “I think I’ve won them over because we’ll be standing in the hallway getting a drink or something and there will be arms around my waist or around my legs giving me hugs.”
As teacher-training programs attract more and closer scrutiny, the TTU College of Education is taking a variety of steps to ensure that its teacher candidates – those who will become teachers upon graduation – are well prepared and ready to teach.
Davis is one of approximately 160 college students to pilot the yearlong teacher residency program that is part of a university and statewide effort to improve teacher training programs and, by extension, P-12 educational attainment.
“Education is always changing and we strive to keep our candidates ahead of the changes,” said Julie Baker, interim assistant dean of TTU’s College of Education. “We needed to take a look and see what we needed to revise to prepare candidates.”
Efforts include the university’s Ready2Teach program, which includes the yearlong residency requirement, a commitment to common course standards, changes in teacher evaluation methods and more program offerings from TTU’s College of Education.
“When I started this semester, I felt like a kindergartener. Everything was new to me so I could relate to my students who were starting school,” Davis said. “I’m thankful that next semester I get to be in the same classroom with them and my mentoring teacher.”
The yearlong residency pilot will end this spring. All senior education majors at TTU will participate beginning next fall.
“If we could spend years working with different grade levels, that would be the best preparation,” she said. “You can never learn enough, and I think it’s a good thing to do it this way.”
For several years, state leaders have been working to improve the quality and quantity of Tennessee’s workforce, and improving K-12 education and increasing the number of adults with a college degree is a large part of that plan.
Fewer than a quarter of adults have a college degree, and Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation in fourth grade math and reading, according to the state Department of Education.
Yet more than half the jobs being created will require post-secondary education, according to the state.
To change the trends, the state has agreed to adopt common core standards for K-12 education, which focus on creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. Most states in the country have adopted the curriculum. It will be rolled out in Tennessee in two years, in conjunction with a different teacher evaluation model that combines observation and data to improve teacher effectiveness.
“The candidates TTU is training now, who will be going through the Ready2Teach program, are the first generation of teachers who will be dealing with those assessments and they need to be ready for them,” Baker said. “We are fully immersed in this reform, and leading the way for our candidates.”
Beyond ensuring that TTU’s teacher candidates are ready for the changing educational environment in the state, the university is making it possible for working teachers to come back to continue their education in high-demand degree fields.
This is the first year a graduate concentration in educational technology has been available at TTU. The concentration, which includes several specially designed courses, was developed after recieving feedback from hundreds of teachers across the Upper Cumberland.
The educational technology program already has 15 full-time students. Six have enrolled for the spring semester, according to Jeremy Wendt, associate professor of education and creator of the concentration.
“The way rules and regulations are changing, technology is something hands-on that all teachers can benefit from, whether they are teaching kindergarten or high school biology,” Wendt said. “We do a bit of what is in the classroom now and a lot of what could be in the classroom tomorrow.”
The College of Education also recently added a concentration in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education to the doctoral program in exceptional learning. The concentration was the second most-requested by teachers responding to the TTU survey.
“You have to look into the future a bit and keep in mind what’s changing and what’s going on,” Wendt said. “I’m getting tons of good feedback.”
“I have a vested interest in this because all of the teachers here are with my kids in the classroom,” he said. “I can’t afford for those teachers not to do well.”