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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"Beyond Ready" to Teach: The Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education

CITE prepares teachers for a smooth start to the school year.
By Diane Curtis

The Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education gave teacher Tonya Flannery invaluable experience.

Credit: Marsha Staggs

When many other first-year teachers were pulling out their hair and questioning why they went into education at all, Tonya Flannery and Tammy Seebohm were reveling in the daily joy of reaching children and watching the wide smiles and bright eyes that come with excitement about learning. Unlike many of their peers, whose inexperience forced them to concentrate on class management well into their first year, Seebohm and Flannery had established a respectful classroom tone that allowed them to jump into productive academics right away.

The two young women credit their smooth start as teachers to the Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education (CITE), a collaboration among the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Public Schools, and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. A five-year program that results in dual bachelor's degrees in education and an academic discipline, CITE puts an emphasis on classroom practice highlighted by a yearlong internship overseen by a mentor teacher, a university adviser, and a CITE coordinator at professional practice schools, which are more commonly known as professional development schools.

During the internship, the UC student is in full charge of the class for half the school day. The other half of the day may be taught by the veteran classroom teacher or another intern. Many of the interns receive a partial first-year teacher's salary, a factor which district and university officials credit with drawing more low-income students for whom a year's unpaid internship might have been too much of a financial hardship. The internships are often in hard-to-staff inner-city schools, and many of the students end up dedicated to urban education and take their first teaching jobs in some of Cincinnati's toughest neighborhoods.

Tammy Seebohm relates that her internship year made her "beyond ready" to teach.

Credit: Tammy Seebohm

Textbook Not Enough

"You can't just read about it in a textbook," says Flannery, who began her third year of elementary school teaching in inner-city Cincinnati this year. "If you don't get to practice, it isn't beneficial."

"The experience I had was just unbelievable," agrees Seebohm, now in her second year as a fourth-grade teacher in Hamilton, Ohio. "When I went into my own classroom, I was beyond ready."

UC taught her the subject matter and taught her how to teach the subject matter, Seebohm says. What the internship taught her was how to use that knowledge and how to create, from day one, a classroom culture that promoted learning. From her observations and intern experience, Seebohm set the tone by laying out classroom rules that she had honed in her internship year. Flannery took a slightly different approach, using a program called "The Responsive Classroom" to teach respect and caring for one another and "create a little family." Both used approaches that had been successful for them in their internships.

"Though you prepare for teaching by taking courses, the best preparation is teaching itself," former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley has said in praising the CITE program. "To learn with the support of master teachers is absolutely critical, and I think teaching colleges are beginning to realize this."

Damon Davis says a big part of the program's success has to do with treating interns as real teachers.

Credit: Lucy Ward

The Education Program

Prospective teachers who enroll at UC take no education courses their first year, education courses that include a short K-12 field experience in their second year, and more education courses in their third year. In their fourth year, they become what are called teaching associates, which typically means they visit and help teach in one class throughout the school year one day a week. And in the fifth year, they have the internship, which is supplemented with courses that allow them to further analyze and refine what they do in the classroom.

They also pick up huge numbers of tips that often reinforce textbook learning that can make the difference between productive and non-productive days. Those tips may include accepting silence as a way to allow a student to formulate an answer or comment; keeping cereal or crackers on hand for kids who come to class hungry, and lowering, rather than raising, a voice to calm a class. The interns also complete a portfolio that reflects their year's work.

The interns are considered real teachers, with all responsibilities that the title implies -- from getting the classroom set up in the fall and writing lesson plans to holding parent conferences, overseeing extracurricular activities, and serving on faculty committees.

Damon Davis, a first-year teacher who was hired by the same Cincinnati school where he completed his internship last year, says that being considered a professional enhanced his experience. "I think it really gives you some ownership of the classroom. Kids see you not as a student teacher -- someone who is just there for a short period of time -- but as your teacher who's there every day. And ownership is an important part of class management.

The experience is not always perfect. Seebohm says that her mentor was teaching her own class at the same time Seebohm was teaching hers, so she didn't get as much immediate feedback as she would have liked.

Veteran teacher Lucy Ward says the interns are not well enough prepared for the task of completely taking over a class in their intern year. As a result, the children in the interns' care often get shortchanged, she says. "The problems are not with the interns but with some ongoing problems that exist with the program." Those problems could be addressed, Ward says, with a fourth-year experience that provides more responsibility for the teacher candidates as well as more collaboration between the university and the professional practice school staff. She also expressed concerns about university-created classroom lessons that don't fit into the regular school curriculum.

Other teachers and supporters of CITE are concerned that new Ohio licensure requirements for more academic courses for education students may cut into the internship year.

Widespread Praise

But for every criticism there are scores of accolades, and even Ward believes the program is far superior to the alternatives. "It is better than student teaching by a mile for student interns," she says.

Others couldn't agree more. Flannery says second-year teacher friends from other colleges who had the more typical ten weeks of student teaching "still say they don't know what to do" regarding everything from setting up rules for pencil-sharpening and going to the bathroom to eliciting thoughtful answers from their students. Meanwhile, UC graduates are being asked by their principals to contribute teaching ideas to peers and to take leadership roles at their schools. As Seebohm puts it, "There was definitely a difference in the confidence level."

But veteran Cincinnati teacher Sandra Luebbe points out that interns aren't alone in benefitting from the program. A mentor at an inner city Cincinnati school for eight years, Luebbe says the interaction with students and professors, as well as participation in professional practice school seminars and workshops, helped her keep abreast of new education reforms, such as cooperative learning and "constructivist" -- or project -- learning. The role of adviser was professionally satisfying, allowing her to influence not just her own class, but others as well. "I have been in this profession a number of years. I have learned a lot, and I would like to pass it on to the next generation," Luebbe says. "My personal goal is that we have quality teachers in every classroom."

Terress Reid praises the combination of practice and strong support.

Credit: Terress Reid

Earned Confidence

Terress Reid, who went through the CITE program after receiving an undergraduate degree in mental health from Northern Kentucky University, says her mentoring by both her UC adviser and the veteran classroom teacher gave her the confidence she needed to feel comfortable about taking over her own class this fall.

When Reid was an intern, UC Associate Professor Ronald Sterling showed up every Wednesday to check on how things were going and to answer any questions she had. Every day before school, she would go over her lesson plan with her classroom mentor, and every day after school, they would talk about what worked and what didn't and how her teaching and class management style could be improved. Simple changes, such as altering the seat arrangement in the class, could make a huge difference in classroom behavior, she learned from her mentor.

Alicia Calloway, who has wanted to be a teacher since she was a child, almost let her family talk her out of teaching with their arguments that it wasn't worth the low pay, hassles, and lack of prestige. But following a temporary detour, Calloway got back on the teaching track she cares so deeply about. She entered her fifth internship year of the program this school year and will be teaching an eighth-grade class where she feels she can do the most good -- the inner city. "I believe I'm up to the challenge," she asserts.

Calloway, who earned her bachelor's degree in English at UC last year and will be earning her bachelor's in education this year, says she has found the program enlightening at all levels. Observation in the second year, she says, was more helpful than she had anticipated because she was able to connect teaching techniques she had learned about in textbooks to what teachers were doing in their classrooms. The fourth year gave her more insight into how classrooms work and offered her a first taste of teaching.

But she believes the combination of being a full-time teacher with an extensive support group this year will be the turnaround point in her preparation. "I think the intern year will be the best year I'll have," she predicts.

Diane Curtis is a veteran education writer and former editor for The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Casey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I read the article on the program CITE which prepares teachers to go into their first year of teaching prepared and confident. I completely agree with this article. I remember sitting in class learning about theories, but constantly thinking, "that's great, but how do I apply and use this in my classroom?" Getting ready to graduate and becoming a new teacher I was concerned most with how to manage my classroom, start the first day of school, grading policies, what do I do if...?, etc. I went into my first year of teaching feeling like I hadn't learned a thing about teaching and very unprepared. I completely agree that you learn a lot about teaching just by doing it. I don't remember much about all the theories I learned. I think this program would be much better than the experience I had during my 4 years at a university.
P.S. this is my first experience doing this blogging thing. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to ask a question or what. But I would greatly appreciate a comment or question. (I am doing this for a class I am taking and have to report back what I got from it.) Thanks!

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

There are a lot of Walden University students asking questions on this page. You might try posting your question there, rather than in response to this article. Good luck!

Casey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks Diane!!

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read the article I wonder how it would work in a state with a Beginning Teacher Induction Program for Credentialing. Does the state of Ohio consider participants in this program fully credentialed and qualified upon completion of the five years? Are other states using this process to complete the credentialing process?

Stephanie

Lindsey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read the article I began thinking back on my own student teaching experience and remembering how close I was to the class and staff of the school that I did my teaching in. Although I was only there for a short amount of time I took away a great deal of information from them. I don't know if I like the complete idea of the internship program because I think that no matter how much prep time a potential teacher has nothing prepares you for your own classroom.
Also to answer the question about Ohio embracing this practice I don't think they have. I know that I am in my fourth year of teaching in Ohio and we still have a mentoring program in our district.
I would be interested in reading more about the success rate of this program. I would also be interesting in knowing if this program is having a higher rate of keeping teachers in there district.
Thank you an any insight you might give would be greatly appreciated!

Amy Klempa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in Ohio and had a mentor my first year as a Title One teacher, but that did not prepare me for a classroom of my own. I struggle to create a disiplane plan that would be successful in my classroom. I think that more time alone in a classroom may help prepare, but you are right. I don't think that anything can replace the first class you have that is yours. I was lucky, my first few classes were pretty good with little behavior issues. I found that in my third year I was contemplating other career choices and could have used the support that year more than any other!

Tamekia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading the article, I think that what Ohio's CITE program is trying to accomplish is great. A lot of times, first year teachers are ill-prepared to manage their own classrooms. I remember my last years of college, I learned all these classroom management models, but still had no idea how to set up my own classroom. Therefore, it is a great idea to have a mentor and university professor to visit you in your classroom to assist with questions and concerns you may have, as well as help you reflect upon things that worked and didn't work in your classroom.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a fantastic program. After reflecting on my first few years of teaching and watching the first few years of others, I've come to believe that learning to teach needs to be more like an apprenticeship, and this program does that.

Heidi Vogel, high school junior and wannateach's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As someone who truly wants to teach others in the future (or even now), I am thrilled to learn that more schools are emphasizing the need for hands on experience. As I read this article I found myself thinking that maybe I should add UC to my list of colleges to look into and agreeing with many of the sometimes overlooked details in the main body.

One such detail was the owning of a class. Just in observing my current and past classes I can confidently say that most students (all at some point or another) regard those teachers who do not start the year with them and that they will not be seeing everyday as useless and as little more than baby sitters. While I understand intellectually that this isn't always true, that is how subs are treated. So I think this intern/mentor idea is excellent because the student teacher is there everyday and owns the class for half the day. Given the valid concern that the college and classroom curricula do not quite match up, and thus some information falls to the wayside, I might suggest a slightly longer school day or year enabling the teaching team to cover everything.

One thing that might add to the program (if it isn't already there) is asking some of the students how well they feel they are learning from the intern and what they have liked or disliked and why. I may be giving the elementary students too much credit, but having at least one student voice may help judge how the intern is growing to control and effectively teach the class. I know that in middle school I was able to suggest lesson ideas to a new 4th/5th combo teacher in the area. (Reading Royal Diaries from the Dear Diary collection by scholastic books, such as Elizabeth I and Cleopatra individually in class and then maybe doing a research project on the character and writing an essay, for example comparing the facts of the character's life with how the character was portrayed or doing the same with the time period.) Perhaps a dialogue with involved students will be useful.

I sincerely hope that in the next decade I find a college that I will love and that will give me as great an opportunity as these new teachers seem to have experienced. In ten years I see myself standing in front of a class and explaining geometry or some other subject to the students. hopefully I will be one of those teachers that touches their students and positively impacts their lives like my former teachers Mrs. Paulson (Kathryn Hughes Elementary School, CA) and Mr. Marshall (Adrian C. Wilcox High School, CA).

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks to the CITE program at UC (it was called something else in 1993), I have been a teacher for 12 years and love it. I don't think I would have been able to handle the pressure of the first few years if it hadn't been for people like Chet Laine and Mary Pat Key who supported us as new teachers and interns.

The pay was an excellent incentive and when I was placed at Hughes Alternative High School, all if the teachers were as excited as we were about the program. The teachers accepted us as coaches and we were assigned one class of students, as our own. Our mentor was available for comfort, comment,and consultation 24/7 and I will be forever grateful for her dedicated efforts.

Good luck to all of the young teachers out there! This is a tough profession and you'll know very quickly if it's for you.

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