After Edward Davis began working for Minneapolis Public Schools as a paraprofessional in 2012, it didn’t take long for him to start wanting a classroom of his own. As a special education assistant and later as a behavioral dean, Davis saw how becoming a teacher would allow him to give back to a community and a profession that meant so much to him.
Davis grew up in inner-city Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was the first person in his family to attend college. He hasn’t forgotten how his own teachers stayed with him for hours after school, helping him fill out college applications and financial aid forms.
“What better way to pay it forward than to give back to children?” he says of his desire to teach. “It would be my way of really saying thank you for the people that helped me out so much on the way.”
One day last year, his school principal passed along some information about the Minneapolis Residency Program (MRP), a University of Minnesota–Minneapolis Public Schools partnership, and Davis knew he had found his path.
“It was like a light switch went on,” he says. “I knew I had to apply for this program.”
Applications for the MRP’s first cohort were open only to staff with bachelor’s degrees already working in the district. Davis was accepted. This year, he is co-teaching in a classroom of second graders at Lucy Craft Laney Community School in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.
The program is centered around a co-teaching model, pairing residents with experienced “master teachers” for an entire school year, beginning to end. The residents are co-teachers, not temporary student teachers or teachers of record, a factor that made a huge difference to Davis.
“Co-teaching you get the full weight of what it is—the responsibility of being a teacher,” he says. “You come into the class on the first day of school, and you’ve got 20 kids, wide-eyed, looking at you. That sense of responsibility for teaching these children is right there.”
Davis’s co-teacher is Hafizah Jaafar, ’13, who holds a master’s of education from CEHD in early childhood education and early childhood special education. Davis says his relationship with Jaafar has been an eye-opening experience.
“The things that I feel like I’m strong at, she makes me better,” says Davis. “The things that I’m weak in, she pushes me every day to become a stronger person in them.”
For her part, Jaafar says, “Working with a resident teacher gave me the opportunity to reflect deeply on my practice.”
Besides lesson plans and methods, Davis says that what he’s learned most from his co-teacher comes from her attitude and dedication to the classroom and the students.
“The way she cares for her students is genuine, authentic,” he says. “She would literally do anything for any one of these kids.”
Districts develop talent at home
The new Minneapolis Residency Program is an elementary education program with a focus on diversifying the teacher candidate pool. It was created by the College of Education and Human Development in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, and the Education Support Professionals Local 59.
The program’s inaugural cohort is made up of 25 individuals selected from an initial pool of more than 100 applicants. The group is 76 percent residents of color, compared with 14 percent of teachers currently in Minneapolis Public Schools overall.
“We want these residents to stay with our students and stay with our schools,” says Molly Sullivan, Grow Your Own coordinator for the district, who helped design and launch the residency program. “We knew that if we could create a program that breaks down some of the barriers, that would be a way to diversify the teaching workforce.”
The program was designed to make a teaching career accessible to a more diverse group. Accepted applicants enter a graduate program and work toward an elementary license. Each MRP “resident” earns payment from the district, is eligible for benefits during the residency, and pays a reduced fee for their program at the University.
”We know that there are a lot of people who want to be teachers, but they can’t because they can’t afford to quit working,” says Kathy Byrn, CEHD coordinator for the Minneapolis Residency Program. “A lot of those people are also people of color.”
Byrn, CEHD faculty and staff, and Minneapolis Public Schools colleagues worked together to customize the delivery of the content of CEHD’s conventional teacher preparation program in a nonconventional way. It includes an intensive summer program followed by a year of co-teaching with outstanding classroom teachers, observation by CEHD instructors, intensive cohort instruction on Fridays, and a second summer of final coursework and assessments.
“This nonconventional program provides a path to becoming a teacher for many individuals who have dreamed of such a goal for years.”
—Associate dean Deborah Dillon
The retention rate for residency programs like MRP is much higher than for many other teacher education programs, says Byrn. National rates for residency-prepared teachers after five years are more than 85 percent. Higher retention rates are also associated with co-teaching, in particular, which prepares residents for their first year in the profession, a notoriously tough time for many new teachers.
“Ultimately it’s the kiddos in the classroom who benefit,” Byrn adds, “because their future teachers are better prepared.”
The MRP is only the third “nonconventional” pathway to teaching developed by CEHD and approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Another is a master’s in education to teach children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), a multidistrict effort now in its second year, with leadership provided by professor Jennifer McComas (the EBD program was described in “Special delivery” in the fall 2015 issue of Connect). A third is the licensure program for second languages education, which adopted a much more extensive clinical structure than the conventional program.
The cost barrier was also addressed by a major gift this summer from the Bentson Foundation to support students in the MRP and EBD residency programs. News of the grant had many students literally jumping for joy.
It’s too early to speculate about long-term plans, but MRP’s first year is encouraging. Possibilities include expansion to other licensure areas or running multiple cohorts.
“There is certainly an enormous level of interest now that the program is up and running,” says Sullivan.
Byrn hopes that MRP and programs like it will change the way people see the teaching profession and help combat a looming teacher shortage in high-need areas.
Anything but conventional
While residency-based programs show promise, most future teachers at the U are enrolled in what the Minnesota Board of Teachers calls a “conventional” program (see sidebar below). CEHD is host to 78 initial licensure programs (ILPs) in more than 20 content areas, ranging from early education through high school, in core subjects as well as specialty areas like art, music, and agriculture education. In 2014, more than 350 students were enrolled in one of these programs.
“Our conventional program is anything but conventional,” says Deborah Dillon, professor and associate dean for graduate and professional programs in CEHD. A national expert on literacy education, Dillon has witnessed the evolution of the University’s teacher education programs over the past decade.
An ambitious teacher education redesign initiative, supported with major funding from the Bush Foundation and leadership by Carmen Starkson Campbell Chair in Education Misty Sato, overhauled and updated the curriculum. A co-teaching model was adopted, putting licensure students into classroom experiences in their first semester for a year of co-teaching instead of traditional student teaching. The coursework is infused with an equity-based teaching-and-learning curriculum, strong partnerships and clinical work (sometimes called “rounds”) in school districts, and a commitment to ensuring that U of M future teachers are effective in meeting the needs of diverse students.
Minnesota teacher preparation program designators
The Minnesota Board of Teaching defines types of teacher preparation programs and is required by law to approve and monitor them. CEHD offers board-approved programs in three categories.
CONVENTIONAL: These include CEHD’s comprehensive programs to prepare teachers for early childhood, elementary, secondary, and adult education. Recently redesigned with support from the Bush Foundation, they are grounded in research-based methods, and outcomes for students, schools, and accountability measures are employed to determine effectiveness.
NONCONVENTIONAL: These deliver conventional program content in nonconventional ways. Currently CEHD has three—the Minneapolis Residency Program in elementary education, the emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) program for a coalition of metro-area districts, and the second languages education licensure program. All aim to diversify the teacher candidate pool and provide opportunities to dedicated individuals who couldn’t otherwise afford to quit their jobs or enroll in graduate school full time.
ALTERNATIVE: Only one alternative pathway has been approved by the board—the U of M Alternative Pathway to Teaching Program: A Partnership Between CEHD and Teach for America—which pairs intense summer coursework with continued coursework for two years while the individual teaches full time and works toward licensure. This pathway offers licensure in elementary education, K-12 English as a second language, secondary math, and secondary science.
A clear, early vision
For undergraduates who know they want to become teachers, the DirecTrack to Teaching program was created in 2008. It’s a specialized track for those who aim to be middle or high school teachers and those seeking K-12 licensure in art and second language education (English as a second language or a specific world language).
It has grown from 17 students in 2008 to 104 students this academic year. Over that time, the number of male students has increased and so has its racial diversity—the program currently hovers around 20 percent students of color.
Qualified applicants are accepted into DirecTrack during their sophomore or junior year and complete coursework as well as education-related service-learning while earning a bachelor’s degree from other colleges in the University system in the subject they hope to teach. Upon graduation, DirecTrack students jump straight into graduate coursework during the summer and engage in their co-teaching experience in schools in the fall and spring.
Ben Spokely was one of them. He has a passion for science matched by his excitement about education. The complexity of science—especially biology—always fascinated him and naturally inspired him to seek out ways to share it with others.
Spokely applied for the DirecTrack program in his freshman year and is now in the initial licensure program, preparing to become a secondary science teacher.
For Spokely, the DirecTrack program provided a community he couldn’t find in his home college as an undergraduate. When dealing with long school days and heavy workloads, his peer relationships have been an essential source of support.
“It’s nice to talk to people who understand how those days are and who can relate to you,” he says.
DirecTrack’s mission has two parts, says Karla Stone, coordinator of the program and an instructor for its undergraduate courses. It aims to create a common space for undergraduates interested in education, like Spokely, and it prepares them to become culturally responsive teachers.
“DirecTrack seeks to help students affirm their choice for teaching and also to help them explore the sociocultural and sociopolitical contexts of teaching,” says Stone. “We’re really digging into everything that schooling involves and looking at those complex contexts using the service-learning experiences in the courses.”
One of the biggest benefits for students, Stone says, is that they finish their undergraduate education having completed every prerequisite for the University’s graduate teaching program. They also receive additional advising within CEHD and accomplish 100 hours of service-learning experience in local schools. That was a big plus for Spokely.
“You gain experience very early, and you’re able to make connections,” he says. A school where he completed service-learning hours offered him a paid position as a tutor when the semester ended.
Now an ILP student, Spokely is happy he doesn’t have to keep his love of science to himself.
“I can transmit and communicate that passion to others,” says Spokely. “I want students to learn the material in the best way possible and make it enjoyable.”
Coming back for a master’s
A professor in Hannah Starke’s undergraduate graphic design program told her she should be a teacher, but she shrugged it off. Then, after graduating, Starke worked in a school in West Africa teaching elementary students. That changed her mind. After three years away from higher education, Starke found her path to CEHD as an art education student in the initial licensure program.
“I liked the timing of the University’s ILP program,” Starke says. The structure of the conventional-track art education program fit her needs, and the mission statement resonated with her.
“I believe in the power of art,” she says, “and I believe that integrating art education in public school is another way for kids to see the world.”
Starke has been working on a part of the program called “rounds,” where ILP students spend a semester completing short practica with art teachers in four different Minneapolis public schools.
“You get a full gamut of styles and environments and types of teachers,” Starke says. “It’s all confirmation. It’s really exciting.”
Next semester, Starke will start a longer co-teaching experience with two of the teachers with whom she completed rounds.
“I hope to show students that they’re valuable and have a unique story to tell,” she says, “and that they are artists in their own ways.”
Claire Sagstuen was on a Fulbright grant teaching English as a second language to eighth-graders in Bulgaria when she had a realization: she didn’t want to stop teaching.
But with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Sagstuen wasn’t eager to return to graduate school. She applied to Teach for America, expecting to be placed somewhere far from her home state of Minnesota. Then she learned about the new CEHD Alternative Pathway to Teaching program for TFA candidates, meaning Sagstuen could actually become a teacher in her home community without losing any time in between. As a member of the first U of M–TFA cohort, Sagstuen is in her second year as an ESL teacher at Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul.
“It’s a faster way for me to just continue to be in the classroom,” says Sagstuen. “I get teaching experience right away, and I’m taking coursework at the same time, so I’m able to automatically implement what I’m learning.”
The University embarked upon a unique partnership with TFA in 2013, creating a program aimed at providing an alternative licensure path for college graduates seeking a career in education. It is the sole “alternative” pathway approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching in May 2014.
“Some have taken the road to a career in the business world, industry, or sciences after college graduation and then have the spark rise within them to teach young people,” says Dillon. “This is a pathway we have prepared in partnership with TFA.”
The program, now in its second year, offers licensure in four areas—several in shortage in Minnesota: secondary science, secondary math, K–12 English as a second language, and elementary education. The program was formed on a model of teaching and learning. Candidates take intensive coursework and engage in student teaching in a nine-week summer residency program, followed by two years of additional coursework while they serve as the teacher of record in their classroom. As they work toward earning their license, all TFA candidates teach full time, attend classes during the week, and participate in regular mentoring sessions.
In the basement of Peik Hall, a dedicated group of faculty, some who are TFA alumni, work to ensure that this alternative program, now in its second year, is running smoothly.
“We took what we know really works in teacher education from the comprehensive program,” says coordinator Kara Coffino, “and adapted and modified it to include those essential key elements and to fit the contextually specific needs of teachers entering through an alternative pathway.”
While TFA operates nationwide, Coffino says the U of M–TFA partnership is something special. One of the critical elements is the relationship between the teacher candidates and their assigned “UMentors” (formerly called supervisors), who may be professionals from the University or from the school district the candidates serve.
“The mentoring is very hands-on,” says Coffino. “Our mentors often co-teach and co-plan lessons so they can be modeling for a teacher candidate what normally would happen during an extended student teaching experience.”
Amy Pucel is a UMentor in the program and also a member of the CEHD Dean’s Advisory Board. She was eager to connect with the TFA students after learning about the mentor positions at a board meeting. Pucel says she sees herself as a resource for reflection and support to the elementary teachers she mentors.
“We’re all sharing ideas,” she says. “I want to let the teachers know that I’m there to help them and assist them.”
Sagstuen says the feedback she receives from her UMentors is essential to her practice. She’s especially grateful for the stability her mentors provided at the beginning of her path.
“If I don’t know something, I have this entire support system that’s one email or phone call away,” she says. “As a first-year teacher, it was so nice to have somebody that would meet me every weekend, go over my lesson plans, and examine my materials, making sure that all of my objectives match.”
Many paths, one vision
Managing multiple pathways requires commitment to the students and a large investment of time to create high-quality programs. But educating the next generation of teachers is at the core of CEHD’s mission.
“We have developed a model program for our multiple pathways to becoming a teacher,” says Dillon. “It is focused on recruiting and preparing excellent educators, supporting them throughout their preparation process, and working with school partners to place our students in excellent jobs where they can be successful.”
Multiple pathways are helping to overcome alarming teacher shortages in many areas and to diversify the teacher workforce, all part of addressing gaps in student opportunities and achievement.
Instructor Christine Peper has taught courses for and worked with students across the college’s teacher preparation programs. Different programs attract students from different walks of life, she observes. Many students in the conventional program follow a traditional path to licensure, while many in the nonconventional and alternative programs come with a wide diversity in age and life experiences. All are needed.
No matter their path, she says, teacher candidates in CEHD programs all share the same goals, beliefs, and aspirations.
“They’re dedicated, they’re passionate, they work hard,” says Peper. “They are all excellent, critical thinkers.”
When a student finds a path that truly works for them, the world opens up.
Story by Ellen Fee | Photo by Greg Helgeson