Education is cyclical. Preschool students become elementary students. Elementary students become middle school students. Middle school students become high school students. High school students become college students. AND…college students become teachers of all of the above (some, anyway).
When examining how to improve the educational experiences of our public school students, we need to look at the collaborative efforts being made (or not made) by all of the parts of the education cycle. To some degree, all of these institutions leveled by age communicate with one another. This communication is vital as educators inform each other of what they are doing, so that they are ensuring smooth transitions from one school building to the next – or at least they should be.
The one lug nut that may need to be adjusted and tightened the most in the education cycle is at the collegiate level. I am NOT implying that education departments are not doing their jobs – far from it, actually. What I am suggesting is that the communication and partnerships between collegiate education departments and public schools need to increase – starting with public schools seeking out opportunities to assist their local colleges and universities where there are needs.
A few weeks ago I met with Elisabeth Johnston of Plymouth State University (PSU). The department of Early Childhood Studies at PSU is transforming the student teacher program into extremely valuable opportunities for aspiring educators. Instead of the run-of-the-mill student teacher experience of 1) observing a classroom, 2) taking on some teaching responsibilities, then 3) teaching a classroom solo for a week or two, the program collaborated with schools around New Hampshire in order to produce better prepared teachers for our students by creating a yearlong internship. During the fall semester the interns spend two and a half days a week and in the spring semester they will be working with the same mentor educator five days a week.
Student teachers from the Early Childhood Studies department at PSU will be able to work with public school educators from day one – actually in some instances before day one – in order to become the best first year teachers they can be. They will work side-by-side educators to see the process of preparing for a new school year and be a part of the first several weeks of school with all of the challenges and adjustments that go with it. Lastly, their student teaching experience of taking on the responsibilities of classroom teacher will not be a small, isolated event but another valuable collaborative opportunity in which they will work a significant amount of time in the classroom, co-teaching with an experienced mentor educator.
This year I am excited to be working with Elisabeth Johnston and her students during my sabbatical to help better prepare them for what to expect in regards to teaching science in the primary grades. We will also work together on the how-tos of effectively planning and implementing science instruction in the classroom. Because the importance of assisting early childhood majors in the areas of teaching reading and math are so high, topics such as science and social studies inevitably receive less attention.
Yes, the first people responsible for guiding students teachers down the right path are their professors. However, elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their districts should also start considering putting “help local student teachers where there is need” near the top of their list of responsibilities. This will, without a doubt, ensure a healthier education cycle.