SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Courtney Rickett will spend the next school year working in classrooms without pay, all while going to college full-time.
It’s overwhelming at times, but the 21-year-old educator wouldn’t trade it for the old model of student teaching, which would have robbed her of the full experience of working in schools, Rickett said.
“You wouldn’t get to see how classroom management is set up,” Rickett told the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1O4w2Dh ).
She is one of about 150 student teachers at the University of South Dakota who will spend an entire school year working in classrooms unpaid.
Traditionally, student teaching lasts a semester, but South Dakota’s public universities are transitioning to a yearlong model. Supporters say it benefits both K-12 students and student teachers, but the change doesn’t come without challenges.
Rickett works in a fourth-grade classroom at Harvey Dunn Elementary School, one of the first schools in the state to take on yearlong student teachers.
Harvey Dunn Principal Teresa Boysen wrote a doctoral dissertation about the program after helping with USD’s pilot, which started in 2011 and was funded by a multi-state, $40 million grant from the Bush Foundation.
“That was a passion,” Boysen said. “That was an interest of mine.”
Now, aspiring teachers across the state can expect to follow in Rickett’s footsteps: spending an entire year in the classroom before earning a degree. The South Dakota Board of Regents approved plans a couple of years ago to implement the practice for all student teachers, starting with 2015 freshmen.
Most university teaching programs in the United States include a student-teaching component lasting up to about 12 weeks, said Tamara Azar, a top official for the National Center for Teacher Residencies.
Her organization partners with schools and universities in Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado and other states to encourage a student teaching model called a “residency,” which lasts for an entire school year and is combined with college classes along the way.
“A residency says these two things should be intertwined,” Azar said. “The courses with the practice.”
Donald Easton-Brooks, dean of USD’s School of Education, said his institution has been a leader in supporting the residency approach to student teaching. He plans to collaborate with top state education officials to adapt the program to South Dakota’s teaching needs.
Student teaching for a longer period of time better prepares young educators for real classroom work, but it also provides schools with more consistency, Easton-Brooks said. A student teacher is there from the first day of school and stays through most of spring semester, assisting the teacher and witnessing the longer-term development of the students.
“They see how things work in real life,” Easton-Brooks said. “Until you really see it in practice, it doesn’t make sense.”
Boysen’s classrooms at Harvey Dunn pair teachers with student teachers, encouraging a symbiotic relationship between the two. Co-teaching allows them to share ideas and split time between different groups of students.
By the end of spring semester, student teachers who have been there from the beginning have more confidence, Boysen said.
“They don’t have to come back the last couple weeks of school, and they do,” Boysen said. “That’s a true testament to those yearlong student teachers.”
Sharon Vestal likes the idea, but it also makes her wonder about the workload.
She worries the yearlong, unpaid student teaching requirement will scare away potential educators as public schools across South Dakota face a shortage of qualified teachers.
Vestal is an associate professor of math education at South Dakota State University, where future high school teachers graduate with a degree in their content area. A math teacher who graduates from SDSU has a math degree. An English teacher has an English degree.
Because of the longer student-teaching requirement, freshmen in Vestal’s department are taking more math classes earlier on in their college career.
“We are trying to fit 46 credits of mathematics in the first three years,” Vestal said. “We may change that slightly before it ever starts, but as of right now that’s what our plan is.”
Dakota State University was also one of the first higher education institutions in the state to pilot the model. Students speak highly of the experience, but it creates challenges for the college as courses are adjusted to fit their limited free time, said education Dean Gale Wiedow.
Student teachers at Dakota State spend each Monday in class. To make everything work, students are limited to a maximum of two courses at a time and classes run eight weeks instead of 16 weeks. Difficulties arise because students have different credits they need to earn before they graduate, Wiedow said.
He expects things to improve with all freshmen following a similar path.
“It will get easier,” Wiedow said. “We certainly hope it will.”
Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com
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