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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.

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