Josh Engel pretty much always knew he wanted to be a teacher.
“Teachers were very impactful in my life,” he says. “I am the youngest of five boys, so I never had a younger brother to help when I was growing up. I wanted to someday have the opportunity to help younger people. That’s why I became a teacher.”
Engel earned his teaching degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSUM) in 2012, and entered a two-year co-teaching fellowship program borne out of a partnership between MSUM and Mankato Area Public Schools. The fellowship program, funded in part through the Bush Foundation’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI), is a way new teachers like Engel can make a smoother transition from a preparation program into teaching.
During the fellowship, Engel earned valuable teaching experience under the watchful eye of co-teacher Bridget Weigt, a master teacher with years of experience in the district. He credits Weigt with helping him become a better, more effective teacher. Her years of experience and perspective paid off when it came to lesson planning, classroom management, understanding school culture and working with parents, he says.
“We’d have conversations about things I was struggling with, what was going well, what she could do to help,” Engel says. “Bridget would co-teach lessons, give feedback and even help prep for lessons when I needed more time. She would do anything that I would ask of her. My first two years in the classroom would have been much more difficult without her.”
The many challenges new teachers face in the classroom result in startling statistics — more than 40% leave within five years, according to a 2014 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Co-teaching is one strategy that the Foundation believes can help reduce this number.
The co-teaching fellowship offered at MSUM, says Allison Barmann, the Foundation’s vice president for strategy and learning, “gives new teachers the best possible start to their careers. And it strengthens the ‘co-working’ bond between the teacher-preparation program and the K-12 school district.” The various co-teaching strategies of TEI partners were specifically called out by external evaluators in 2014 as one of the biggest successes of the Initiative to date.
With Weigt’s support and guidance, Engel was able to make the most of his two-year fellowship, teaching physical education and health at two middle schools in the district. Though the work was full time, he completed his masters in experiential education in 2014.
Engel now works as a full-time developmentally adaptive phys ed teacher at Futures, a Mankato Area Public Schools program for children with special needs. He says he hopes to one day be able to pay it forward, by serving as a mentor for another up-and-coming teacher like Weigt did for him.
“Bridget's had such a great impact on so many teachers, improved how they worked with students. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?”