March 30, 2005

Teaching program offers multiple benefits

by Pete Rosenbery

unity point news

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CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A nationally recognized graduate teaching program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is an investment in teachers that offers multiple dividends.

The Teaching Fellows Graduate Program places certified graduate students from a variety of teaching programs with mentoring public school teachers in the classroom four days a week for a school year. The collaboration with local school districts, which dates to January 1999, earned the program recognition as a Distinguished Program in Teacher Education by The Association of Teacher Educators.

The program, within the College of Education and Human Services, allows graduate students to come to school districts as first-year teachers but already with one or two years of classroom experience. That is distinctly different from student teaching programs where undergraduate students work under the supervision of a classroom teacher, said Teaching Fellows program director Lynn C. Smith, an associate professor in Curriculum and Instruction.

There are relatively few programs like this in the nation for graduate students, Smith said. The model for the program was an undergraduate teaching fellows program that Dean R. Keith Hillkirk worked with at Ohio University prior to 1998. SIUC secured the funding for the program from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The program has had 64 Teaching Fellows since its inception, including 18 this year.

Teaching Fellows may select a one- or two-year program option, and most are staying for the two years, Smith said. Students who have completed the program are classroom teachers throughout Illinois, as well as in Nashville, San Antonio, San Jose and St. Louis.

Omero Anguiano, a sixth-grade social studies and writing teacher, is in his second year at the Unity Point school district south of Carbondale. He received his bachelor's degree in secondary social studies education from SIUC in 2001. He completed the Teaching Fellows program and is finishing work on his master's degree.

Anguiano, who is from Zion, said the program gave him an opportunity to work alongside a master teacher "who exponentially helped me become a better teacher than what I would have been had I been fed to the lions, so to speak, on my own."

Teaching Fellows "don't have to worry about those common mistakes that are made as a fresh, just-out-of-college teacher, where a lot of what you are doing is from what you have read and not what you have experienced," he said. "If I saw that I made a mistake as a Teaching Fellow, I had someone to look to who could say this is where I should be and how I should be doing it."

The program allows for two certified teachers in the classroom who together plan lessons, teach and assist students. The Teaching Fellows benefit from the mentoring they receive, and both benefit from the professional sharing of ideas and concepts – a process that begins when the Teaching Fellow prepares for the start of a school year. There are scheduled one-half days twice a month that involve co-planning for the mentor and Teaching Fellow.

"The other benefits to the Teaching Fellows are that they receive nurturing, have an immediate support system, and they learn how to co-teach, how to share a classroom," Smith said. "In this day of inclusion ... it is extremely beneficial."

The primary benefit is children have two certified teachers in the classroom. Children having difficulty in a particular subject receive added instruction, and the additional teaching presence maintains lesson continuity when the mentoring teacher is away from the classroom, Smith said.

An integral part of the program is an action research component, where the Teaching Fellow and mentor teacher identify a problem – such as improving reading scores or how to get parents more involved.

"The action research component introduces novice teachers to the skills and practice of research in the classroom to learn more about how to solve complex problems of student learning," Hillkirk said. "It would be wonderful if every new teacher was able to have that type of experience because it provides an ideal introduction and beginning experience for the new teacher."

The action research "gives a whole new attitude of inquiry into the classroom" because both the mentor teacher and Teaching Fellow constantly look for ways to improve, said Mary Jo Diamond, curriculum director at Unity Point.

"They don't see a problem as a frustration – they see a problem as, ‘How can I solve this?' " Diamond said.

From teacher conferences, open house visits, working with students, dealing with parental concerns, and collaborating with other teachers on projects, the program provides Teaching Fellows with the real-life experience that will help shape their own careers, Diamond said.

Unity Point is one of four Southern Illinois districts that have a professional development school partnership with the program. The others are Carbondale Elementary School District, Giant City Consolidated School District and Murphysboro Community Unit School District.

"It's a wonderful program," said Linda Meredith, director of curriculum for the Carbondale elementary schools. "It gives the students a great opportunity to work on getting their master's degrees and spend four days in the classroom, and the benefit of being with a veteran teacher from the beginning to the end of the school year."

Carbondale has eight Teaching Fellows, and Meredith said they would love to have more, if possible.

Unity Point currently has four Teaching Fellows, and hired two previous participants, including Anguiano, as full-time teachers in the district. When teaching positions do open up, hiring a Teaching Fellow who has worked within the district is a plus because school officials already know them and their work, Diamond said.

Teaching Fellows receive a graduate assistant stipend including a tuition waiver, and most take a graduate school course load of six to nine credit hours per semester. Many of the Teaching Fellows have come from SIUC's undergraduate education programs, but there are graduates from the University of Illinois, Bradley University, Millikin University, MacMurray College and Princeton University.

Offering progressive graduate education is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

(Caption: Two teachers are better than one – Students in Omero Anguiano’s sixth-grade class at Unity Point grade school near Carbondale benefit from a nationally recognized graduate teaching program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The Teaching Fellows Graduate Program places certified graduate students from a variety of teaching programs with mentoring public school teachers in the classroom for added experience for the entire school year. Anguiano is a Teaching Fellow graduate, and Amanda Hilt, of Marion, is in her first year in the program.)

Photo by Russell Bailey