School of Education Makes Changes to Strengthen Teacher Education

by John Conroy

The School of Education has recently made changes to keep us not only positioned as one of the top graduate schools in the country but more importantly as increasingly helpful and attentive to the needs of our students.

One of the achievements the School of Education prides itself on is increasing teacher retention among our alumni working in the field. Unfortunately, teacher burnout has become an issue in the field overall, with educators working for a few years and then leaving. One reason for this is teachers’ being placed in situations in which they don’t know how to perform.

Meanwhile, graduates of our programs tend to be teacher-leaders with better trajectories with regard to long-term teaching and career advancement because of their training. The school welcomes individuals who have completed a four-year academic degree and have strength in their content area, which yields a more mature student who is less likely to later encounter those types of career roadblocks.

In addition, we’re also beginning an initiative this fall called the Attentive Teaching Practices (ATP) program that will further help teachers cope with the stress of teaching as well as teach them how to help students cope with their own difficulties. The ATP training will make explicit connections between in-the-classroom work and materials with supported reflection and analysis.

The well-rounded, interactive experience of our teacher education programs helps our students feel prepared to lead their own classroom and deal successfully with the challenges of today’s educational environment.

The Department of Instruction and Learning (DIL) is also implementing a new curriculum in adolescent development. The program was designed by Amanda Hirsch, and will provide preservice teachers with opportunities to notice specific elements of their school contexts, many of which are guided by recognizing the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive dimensions of adolescent development.

The combination of the ATP work—which seeks to develop teachers' own social and emotional skills and capacities—and the adolescent development course are welcome additions to the new Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. This program was created proactively to combat the increasing cost of higher education. This past year, we redesigned our MAT program to bring it from the previous level of 48–51 required credits to 36 credits. This change reduced the cost of tuition by 25 percent and also reduced the number of months a student must be with us full time. The new MAT program replaces our Professional Year program, so that every secondary teaching certification now includes a master’s degree.

The School of Education is also slowly moving from having a large body of student interns spread out across a large number of school placements to the development of alliances with a smaller number of school districts with a higher amount of students in each. These internships will contain a maximum of four-and-a-half days per week between September and June and help strengthen and support the in-class coursework the students are conducting.

A final program update is the unveiling of the Master’s of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification, or MOSAIC, a new, dual certification program at the School of Education that allows graduates to teach general and special education for grades 7-12 in middle or high schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for special education teachers in the United States will exceed 554,000 by 2018. This represents an increase of 17 percent from 2008, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the nation. In addition, leaders from school districts have indicated a strong need for dually certified teachers and shared that individuals like the MOSAIC graduates will be uniquely qualified for these positions.

Photos: A group of MOSAIC students meet with a "parent panel" of mothers with children with special needs to discuss their experiences as parents as well as their children in the classroom.

The combination of new and revised practices, programs, and internships will help produce teachers who are not only are ready to get jobs, but also have the ability to effectively teach concepts in their subject areas and are capable of connecting with students in ways that further strengthen their ability to learn. These updates will build on our already strong foundation and support teacher candidates as they work to establish classroom contexts in which all students feel safe, motivated, and capable of learning.