New teachers in New York are becoming better prepared to help students meet college- and career- ready standards.
Nichole Mantas felt her first year as a high school biology teacher at Lansingburgh High School in Troy, New York was far smoother than she had anticipated. “It was like I was already a mile into this yearlong race, whereas other teachers I worked with were entering at the starting line,” she said of her experiences in school year (SY) 2013-1014.
Mantas said she knew just what to expect, and how to set herself up for success because she had already spent a full year as an intern co-teaching science with a seasoned educator. One month into that internship, she had begun leading an Advanced Placement biology course, designing lab experiments and creating lesson plans—all while benefiting from expert guidance and coaching.
The combination of the teaching experience and mentoring during the internship helped her hone her craft quickly, she said. “My mentor gave me a lot of freedom to try new things, but she was always there to give me feedback and we were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other,” she said.
The internship was a key component of Mantas’ ‘Clinically Rich’ Master’s program at Union Graduate College, one of 12 institutions across New York State awarded pilot grants from the New York State Education Department. Supported through the State’s Race to the Top grant, the program aims to strengthen teacher preparation programs and establish partnerships with high- needs schools to help them address perennial shortages of candidates in areas such as mathematics, science, and special education.
The internships offered by the Clinically Rich programs last for an average of 10 months, during which the teacher candidates spend five days a week in classrooms. Research shows that this approach familiarizes novices with the realities of classrooms and makes it less likely that they will leave teaching after only a few years. Research by Richard Ingersoll, Professor of Sociology and Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that an estimated 50 percent of new teachers in high needs schools leave within the first five years.
Class assignments in the pilot programs are grounded in the internship experiences, strengthening the connection between theory and practice. As a result, it is hoped, new teachers in high-need schools will be more effective and more likely to stay on the job.
State Focus on Teacher Effectiveness
The pilot program is a key component of a larger State focus on educator effectiveness. “Our goal is to prepare every student to graduate college and career ready,” said State Education Commissioner John King in a press release. “These grants will help teachers help students toward that goal. Better trained teachers make better classroom teachers. And better classroom teachers make better, well-prepared students.”
Grants were awarded to undergraduate- and graduate-level programs specializing in preparing teachers of science, mathematics, middle and secondary special education, bilingual education and English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Among the institutions receiving grants was the American Museum of Natural History, making it the first museum in the nation authorized to grant teaching degrees. Other partners include New York University, Syracuse University, and a number of schools within the City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) systems. Nearly 90 percent of the 407 graduates from the first two cohorts are currently working in New York schools serving high-needs populations. By the end of 2015, programs supported by the grants are expected to have prepared approximately 550 teacher candidates.
Similar efforts to increase the amount of time teachers spend in classrooms during their training are underway in Georgia, Indiana, and Virginia.
Mentors see how much the aspiring teachers gain from their internships. “When they leave my classroom, they are much more confident and more prepared to enter classrooms of their own,” said Bev Greco, a veteran mathematics teacher who has served as a mentor at Amsterdam High School in upstate New York.
James Gavigan, a mentor teacher for SUNY Oswego, said the model allows for more collaboration. “For five months you’re co-teaching every day,” he said. “My mentee and I have a chance to talk about our lessons and what went well and what we would do differently.”
Mentors are recommended by building principals and district administrators, and are typically tenured educators who have achieved an effective or highly effective on their annual professional evaluations. Mentors receive stipends covered through a combination of Race to the Top and district professional development funds.
Building Meaningful Relationships with Students
Jean-Pierre Rosas Sandoval, a SUNY Oswego graduate who just completed his first year as an English as a Second Language teacher in the Syracuse City School District, said his internship taught him how to build meaningful relationships with his students, a skill that has served him well as a first-year teacher.
“Having an opportunity to be with my students for 20 weeks definitely made a huge difference in my ability to be effective in the classroom,” he said. Sandoval’s students, all of whom are new to the English language, made huge strides in their writing skills this year—his first as a full time teacher. Sandoval said he drew heavily on the literacy practices he learned from his mentor teacher. His students’ progress has caught the attention of veteran educators at his new school, who were so struck by his students’ gains they are asking Sandoval to share his instructional strategies with them.
The Clinically Rich model also allows candidates latitude to try new approaches. “If you’re just going in for seven weeks, you’re just trying to plan your lesson and deliver it,” said Anneke McEvoy, who coordinates SUNY Oswego’s Clinically Rich programs. “But if you’re there for 20 weeks, you get to know the routines, and candidates are able to experiment. Candidates can say to their mentor ‘I’ve been watching you do this, how about trying this?’ And mentors are more comfortable being open to different strategies.”
The Clinically Rich model also allows for coursework in their programs to draw from or apply directly to students’ internship experiences. Professors, who are themselves veteran teachers, observe teacher candidates in the classroom frequently, provide them with additional feedback, and help them address classroom management problems or instructional challenges. Teachers really benefit from this level of ongoing coaching and feedback, said Bruce Tulloch, Associate Dean in the School of Education at Union Graduate College “Having a veteran master teacher observe you in the class that many times makes a difference. For the students who go through our program, they know how to develop a full lesson plan. And they know how to engage a class because they had the benefit of a program that really taught them how to teach.”
Tulloch and his colleagues running other Clinically Rich programs see the pilot as an important first step toward transforming teacher preparation across the country. “Most universities are not currently well-positioned to support this resource-intensive model, but we need to move in this direction if we want to ensure students have access to great teachers,” Tulloch said.
Model for the State and Nation
The pilot program was intended to explore new approaches to identify models that should be replicated.
Several of the pilot sites have formed partnerships with schools and school districts to keep the Clinically Rich programs going. For example, Syracuse University is partnering with the Syracuse City School District to continue year-long residencies for teacher candidates in special education and mathematics after the grant period ends and the Museum of Natural History received a Federal teacher preparation grant to expand its program.
In addition, SUNY will use Race to the Top funds to spread the model throughout its system. SUNY Buffalo, for example, is revising its Educational Leadership Program to provide clinically rich and authentic practices for school leaders, and SUNY Plattsburgh is offering a series of online and in-person workshops about the Clinically Rich model for districts and mentor teachers.
Stephanie Wood-Garnett, former Assistant Commissioner of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the New York State Education Department, said the Clinically Rich approach can be adapted by other training programs in New York and nationally. “We know that these deeper, richer student placement experiences are better preparing these candidates to take roles as teachers in high-needs schools and to ensure that all students graduate from high school, college- and-career-ready,” she said.
Tools and Resources
- Pilot programs and partner districts
- Graduate Level Clinically Rich Pilot Program RFP
- Video clips of pilot programs
- Additional resources
- Expand hands-on experience. Extended time in the classroom is a key component of high quality teacher preparation.
- Focus support on development. Aspiring teachers need high quality mentorship, consistent supervision and feedback
- Invest in high quality mentoring. Quality mentors model effective instructional practices, engage in co-teaching and provide daily opportunities to co-plan and reflect on lessons and assessments.
- Connect coursework to the classroom. Coursework for teacher preparation programs should build on and reinforce what student teachers are learning in their internships.
Q&A with Nichole Mantas, graduate of Union Graduate College’s (UGC) Clinically Rich Master’s Program, and high school science teacher at Lansingburgh High School
Q: One of the core elements of the Clinically Rich model is the integration of coursework with practice. What did this actually look like in your program?
A: At UGC, I took a class on lab demonstrations. Every week, my group had to design a different lab or demo that was inquiry-based and something we could do with our students. This year, I have used many of those labs with my students and pushed their curiosity and knowledge of biology to another level.
Q: Can you tell me about one of the labs you designed?
A: I created a chicken pox lab to show high school students why it’s important to be vaccinated. Students had candies in a bag that were different colors. Red candies were antigens (chicken pox), green candies were anti-bodies and other colored candies were nothing. Students would shake the bag and take out two at a time. If they pulled out the red/green color combination, they were protected from chicken pox. I gave them some background information, and they had to use what they knew about chicken pox to predict the probability of getting chicken pox. They then graphed their data and discussed their conclusions with the class.
I presented the lab at a teacher conference and people loved it. I’ve heard back from teachers who’ve said they used it and it worked really well. A couple of people asked me to present at the national conference.
Q: How did your experience in UGC’s Clinically Rich Master’s program help prepare you for your new teaching position?
A: When I entered Lansingburgh High School, the other biology teachers and I decided that we wanted to revamp what taking a science class entailed, hopefully causing more students to enroll in the Advanced Placement biology course and receive college credit from it. Creating labs in my coursework and internship, as well as learning different methods to present information to my students, gave me a head start this year so that my students got the best lessons. After an observation, my principal mentioned that my classroom didn’t seem like the classroom of a first-year teacher.