Clinical residency aims to change teacher training in Louisiana
Reprinted with permission of the Monroe News-Star – Written by Hannah Baldwin (11/26/2016) http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/2016/11/26/clinical-residency-aims-change-teacher-training-louisiana/94075642/ Fourth-graders crowded around small, laminated cards stuck to the backs of chairs, sides of desks, cabinet doors and shelves around their classroom at Sallie Humble one Thursday morning early in November. The cards bore questions about the animal kingdom — how to tell whether an animal is a vertebrate or invertebrate and which mammal lays eggs, for example. April Palmer helped her students find the hardest-to-spot clue, which was taped to the window of the classroom door, partially hidden by a curtain. Palmer, a senior at Louisiana Tech University’s College of Education, is one of three clinical teaching residents at Sallie Humble this year. She started teaching on the first day of school. She’ll stop on the last day. By the time she graduates from college, she will have completed her first year of teaching. Two other residents — Adriane Meggs and Kerrigan Pettis — teach in third grade English Language Arts and math classrooms. They, along with Palmer, are the first three clinical teaching residents in Monroe City Schools. Louisiana Tech currently has 33 total residents, most of whom teach in Lincoln Parish or Ouachita Parish schools. Each resident is paired with an experienced teacher who becomes a mentor. By the 2019-2020 school year, the yearlong clinical residency will have replaced the traditional quarter or semester of student teaching across the state. Louisiana is first in the country to have made teacher residencies a state mandate. The state’s Department of Education is working to support universities as they make the transition, Amy Vessel, the school’s director of clinical and field experiences, curriculum, instruction and leadership, said. The residency program started in 2014 after the state started the Believe & Prepare Educator Grant Program to provide funding for it. That year, Louisiana Tech, Southeastern University and Nicholls State University participated. The goal of the residency is to improve teacher training, with the hope that fewer new teachers burn out and quit within the first few years of their careers. Because they graduate as second-year teachers, the residents also have an easier time finding jobs. “They do not stand out from those seasoned teachers in the schools,” Vessel said. Louisiana Tech aims to have all of its elementary and secondary education majors participate in the residency by 2017. That commitment is what placed Sallie Humble on U.S. Secretary of Education John King’s annual bus tour in September. Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe are creating their own residency programs, Serena White, the Monroe City Schools District liaison for Clinical Residency Believe & Prepare Program, said. The residents are not the only beneficiaries of the program: the mentors learn from the residents’ fresh ideas and perspectives along the way. The mentors at Sallie Humble are fourth-grade science and social studies teacher Brittney Wallace, third-grade English language arts teacher Shannon Embanato and third-grade math teacher Angela Byrd. “To be a good teacher you have to be willing to evolve,” Embanato said. She was initially hesitant to have a resident. She didn’t think a student teacher would know enough to hit the ground running but said Vessel convinced her to attend training for mentors in July. “It was definitely an ‘I drank the Kool-Aid’ experience,” Embanato said. Embanato is now Meggs’ mentor. She remembers Meggs walking into the classroom on the first day of school and immediately feeling a sense of responsibility for the students. “I compare it to the greatest tennis match ever,” Embanato said. “We play off each other well. She jumps in at the right time.” On that Thursday afternoon earlier this month, Meggs walked around the classroom helping a struggling student with a reading comprehension activity while Embanato worked with the rest of the class. Later, when Embanato stepped out of the room for a meeting, Meggs taught. The students did their work just as diligently as they had for Embanato. Because Meggs started teaching on the first day of school, the students respect her as much as they do the mentors. “Earning the kids’ respect from the start is more important than people realize. It sets the tone,” Meggs said. Education majors going through a traditional student-teacher program might not see the first day of school. Wallace, who is Palmer’s mentor, said that she was lost when she started teaching. Her student teaching experience had come at the end of the school year, so she had to learn how to set routines on her own. All three residents agreed that seeing the first day of school was important. The routines teachers set in the first week of school are the same routines the classroom will follow for the whole year. “What the heck do you do on the first day of school?” Pettis said. “I’ve seen that. It was crazy but I’ve seen that.” “It was like Christmas morning,” Palmer said. She said her classroom management class at Louisiana Tech had focused on how to prepare for the first day of school. “It was cool the first week of school. I got to see them come in and every morning they’d go over the five rules,” Pettis said. “They are co-teachers, not student teachers,” Byrd said. She introduced Pettis to students’ parents as her co-teacher. The benefits of the residency extend to the students, too. The student-to-teacher ratio is lower, so students get more individual attention. Byrd said she arranged her classroom so the students who need more help sit toward the front. Those capable of working more independently sit toward the back, where Pettis kept an eye on their work during class on a recent Tuesday. Pettis will sometimes take a struggling student out into the hall to work as Byrd, who said she does not believe in downtime, keeps the class moving at a breakneck pace. The first 12 weeks of the school year – the length of a quarter at Louisiana Tech – have flown by. Palmer has already had one assessment. Wallace, Embanato and Byrd observed her teaching on different days. They critiqued her ability to plan and prepare, manage the classroom, instruct students and her level of professionalism. Residents will be assessed throughout the year to evaluate their progress. They’ll submit a portfolio of lesson plans as a capstone project before they graduate. As the school year passes, they become more independent and capable teachers. “I can’t wait till it’s really mine,” Pettis said. She’s done everything with her mentor except decorate the classroom. A Shreveport native, Pettis said she hopes to work in Caddo Parish after she graduates. That’s one of the program’s goals – to keep quality teachers in classrooms in Louisiana. “We want to keep our own teachers in Louisiana. We don’t want them in other states and if we plant them in their homes as teachers, I truly believe they’re more likely to stay,” Vessel said.