The University of South Dakota, one of 14 partners in the Foundation’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, is tipping the balance in teacher preparation from theory to practice, giving teacher candidates a full-year of classroom immersion.
We knew going in that teacher candidates have a kind of romantic notion of what teaching will be like. Spending 12 weeks in a classroom only gives you a little snapshot. But the truth is, it’s a long year from August to May, and when new teachers take over their first classrooms they discover parents get mad, kids get difficult and it’s challenging even for an experienced teacher to engage a classroom for a full year.
We believed we could better prepare new teachers to enter the classroom by changing the balance between theory and practice—not just getting them out into the classroom earlier (starting in their freshman year) and often, but moving seniors from a one semester experience to a full-year residency model. We introduced the idea to our colleagues across USD’s campus in the fall of 2008, and it took a year or two to lay the groundwork and get the buy-in we needed to begin the pilot.
Change like this is challenging, because it interrupted some course work and required change across the entire campus, not just the School of Education. But we had support from the president’s and provost’s offices, which was really key to our success.
In the field, we’ve learned a lot about the kind of mentor teacher the teacher candidates really benefit from working with—those who say, “come alongside me and let’s do this together and I’ll learn from you and you’ll learn from me.” It’s hard work for both teachers, but after a full year, the teacher candidates feel prepared and confident that they can go out and do this. And they know what it’s really going to be like.
What starts small can surpass your initial dreams. We piloted the full-year residency program in the 2010-2011 school year with 10 elementary education majors in Sioux Falls. For the 2014-2015 school year, every USD teacher candidate, with just a few exceptions, is in full-year residency. The South Dakota Board of Regents is implementing full-year residency in all state-run teacher preparation programs, and we’re talking to other states that are interested in what we’re doing in South Dakota.