Think of how doctors are trained.
Long, intensive sessions in hospitals and clinics, working with actual patients – just like the ones they will see in their own practices.
Now imagine that scenario applied to teachers.
Picture a year of rigorous training. Picture future educators working intensively with children in classroom settings – alongside professionals who have experience in the field.
It may seem like a vision that’s out of reach.
But New York State has begun pushing changes in teacher training that would allow young educators to be molded like doctors, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo calling for a new focus on making student teaching more effective.
And one local college is ahead of the pack in creating this type of program.
SUNY Fredonia State will mark the 40-year anniversary next month of its collaborative program with the Hamburg school system to provide intensive, clinical-style teacher training to college students.
“When we started this 40 years ago, ‘clinically rich’ was not in anyone’s vocabulary,” said Fredonia State professor Ann Marie Loughlin, director of field experiences for students.
No amount of training can prepare the new teacher for the excitement – and the fear – of the first day of school.
But if the teacher has been there before, it can be a big help.
That’s the concept the Fredonia/Hamburg program is based on.
Unlike most student teachers, about 25 students from Fredonia can say they’ve been there and done that at Hamburg Central Schools, since they spend their entire senior year in Hamburg.
The collaborative will observe its 40th anniversary this year with a dinner April 19 at the Old Orchard Inn in East Aurora. It’s in line with a growing national movement to give student teachers a more intensive “clinically rich” teaching experience, similar to the way doctors are trained.
A 2010 report by a blue-ribbon panel of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education advocates “sweeping changes in how we deliver, monitor, evaluate, oversee, and staff clinically based preparation to nurture a whole new form of teacher education.”
The panel recommended reshaping teacher training around the clinical experience that comes in the classroom to benefit teachers in training, as well as the elementary and high school students they teach.
New York State last year awarded $3.5 million to the State University of New York – which prepares one-quarter of the state’s new teachers – to implement a comprehensive teacher education initiative.
This year, Cuomo called for a “longer, more intensive and high-quality student teaching experience in a school setting” in his budget message.
Yet most student teaching programs last just a semester.
In Hamburg, on the other hand, the college students start before the first day of school in September and stay through May, when they graduate.
While in the program, they spend three days a week teaching in the fall, and the other two days taking their “methods” class in Hamburg from their college professors. In the second semester, they receive two other teaching assignments in two different grades.
“You effectively have been working full-time for the entire year,” said first-grade teacher Jackie Rasulo.
She’s a graduate of the program who went on to find a permanent job in Hamburg. She said the knowledge, experience and confidence she gained helped her get a job in Newark Central immediately after graduation.
“It does take a more dedicated student, because you essentially miss your senior year in college,” she said.
But that wasn’t a problem for Amanda Rockwood of Orchard Park.
Rockwood said she’s getting a lot more out of student teaching than she would have staying in Fredonia for the final year.
“It’s been wonderful, it’s the best learning experience I could have asked for,” Rockwood said. “I don’t look at it as a negative not being on campus.”
Her first placement was with Rasulo. All the textbooks and lectures in the world couldn’t show her how the classroom environment is created on the very first day of school. But she was able to see how Rasulo sets up rules and procedures, and how students reacted to them as they walked in the door.
“They really adapted well,” Rockwood said. “They’re so excited to come to school.”
After first grade, she taught seventh grade English in the Middle School, and now she is in a fourth-grade class at Armor Elementary.
The usual student teaching protocol gives college students placement in two classrooms. They arrive in September, but not usually on the first day of school.
Loughlin, the Fredonia State professor, said New York State funds two student teaching placements, and Hamburg and Fredonia fund the third placement. The district provides up to 75 cooperating teachers to take the students into their classrooms.
“Any superintendent at any point could have scrapped this,” she said.
A steering committee made up of representatives from the college, students, each Hamburg school, principals and the union meets once a month.
Teachers know Loughlin monitors her students and works with them, and if they don’t do well, she will give them failing grades.
Fredonia has students in 92 schools in about 50 districts, including New York City, she said.
The school starts placing students as freshmen, although formal student teaching takes place in the fourth year, and there are traditional one-semester placements.
“We’ve tried to work with districts to satisfy what their needs are,” she said.
With teachers being evaluated on what takes place in their classrooms and how students do on high-stakes testing, some might think twice about having a college student gain experience with their students.
But Rasulo doesn’t. The students help her class, she said.
It gives her the opportunity to break the class into smaller groups, with the student teacher working with one group. They also provide another set of eyes to track behavior, she said.
“I’m always learning new things, too,” she said. “It keeps you on your feet.”