USTEP's First Class Produces Teacher Leaders
By Robert Schroeder
A little over one year ago, a handful of National Louis University Master of Arts in Teaching Secondary Education candidates were given the ultimate assignment: start student-teaching from day one of their masters program, with no prior teaching experience.
It may sound like madness, but the inaugural class of Urban Scholar Teacher Education Partnership (USTEP) students have emerged not only intact from their full-year immersion but have stepped into full-time roles with a comfort level surprising their new colleagues.
National Louis University's Harry Ross, Ph.D., associate professor in the National College of Education, says a review of qualitative and quantitative data from the partnership's first year reveals teachers arguably better-prepared to set foot in urban high school classrooms.
"They knew their students well, they learned how to form great relationships with students, and they were great a differentiating instruction," said Ross. "They became very adept at getting to know their students' learning needs."
Having completed their first three months as full-time teachers, initial evaluations by school principals indicate that the scholars are developmentally beyond the capacity of most first-year teachers. The reports indicate other first-year teachers are coming to USTEP alumni for assistance.
In an area that few teacher candidates may consider, USTEP alumni are proving adept at handling the mountains of paperwork that accompany the day-to-day role of a teacher. Self-evaluations indicated the new teachers were comfortable with time management and reserving ample time for writing curriculum and lesson plans.
Similarly, mentor teachers at Wells and Farragut in Chicago noted they learned as much from their scholar mentees as the scholars learned from them. A collaborative project started by scholars at Farragut last year has turned into a full unit implemented this year, and new student clubs set up by the scholars are still functioning. As full-time teachers, the scholars are taking on leadership roles as coaches and club leaders.
"They are participating in the life of the school beyond what most first year teachers do," Ross said. "I just tell them, 'Please don't burn out on me.'"
The partnership has expanded this year to include a Suburban Scholar Teacher Education Partnership (SSTEP). With scholars student-teaching at Evanston, Maine East, Maine West in the Chicago suburbs and Farragut and Wells in the city, faculty in NLU's secondary education department are using data to improve the scholar experience.
Ross says faculty have tweaked the process of mentor selection after a 90 percent success rate matching scholars and mentor teachers a year ago. A mentor teacher's role with a full-year student-teacher setting foot in a classroom for the first time is not easy; Ross says teachers must be willing to yield power and trust the scholar to make mistakes.
The partnership has also added school observations as part of its curriculum; while students successfully ingrained themselves in the culture of their own schools, faculty identified the need for students to experience a range of school environments to successfully choose a matching environment for their first teaching job.
The scholars are all enrolled in a special education course to gain knowledge on collaborating with team teachers, general education teachers and special education teachers. Scholars are also connecting via a wiki to record their experiences in the classroom and comment on fellow scholars' reflections.