George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Learning Laboratory Prepares Tomorrow's Educators

Montclair State University gets future teachers into real schools real fast. More to this story.
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Student: Hello, Doctor Greb.

Student: Hello, Cora.

Narrator: These students at New Jersey's Montclair State University are practicing a classroom greeting.

Man: Hello, Laura. Now do I--?

Narrator: It's part of the fun and excitement of becoming the kind of teacher the school describes in its portrait of a teacher.

Ada: One of the things that sets us apart is that we do have a very clear vision for what we believe constitutes good teaching and learning and schooling.

Teacher: So why do activities in your classroom like this?

Ada: Learning to teach takes place over the course of an entire career, and what we are committed to do is to prepare our students to be excellent beginning teachers who know how to continue to learn and grow and develop as teachers.

Teacher: Everyone look at me, everyone give me the sign.

Narrator: Montclair has developed a network of some twenty-five partner school districts in the area, where students like Andrea Mayernick can get their first exposure to the classroom.

Andrea: They really push hands on, jump right in there, get your feet wet, because in the end, that's where you need the most experience. You learn the most from practice.

How many hops till twenty?

Narrator: Mayernick student teaches at Bradford Elementary School with her cooperating teacher, Serena Swain.

Serena: You're going to guess or take an estimate of how many pennies you can grab with your hand.

Andrea: I'm in the first grade with Miss Swain and it's just been such an amazing experience to just interact with the children on a daily basis and to be with Miss Swain. She's an amazing mentor.

Serena: I don't know if this surface is really good for grabbing, so maybe use a slate or a book, something.

Andrea: The preparation, I need, and it's really given me the confidence that when I take over my own classroom, I can do this. I'm capable, and I can do it well.

Fran: You can't learn how to teach in a vacuum and reading about teaching in a book, watching a video, albeit might be very interesting and helpful, you've gotta roll up your sleeves and you've gotta get into it. We want them to see the complexity of what it means to be in a classroom.

Joe: And let's count back fourteen.

Student teaching, well, it's a journey. I sped a lotta time at home doing lesson plan preparation. I observe my cooperating teacher a lot, trying to pick up on her style of teaching.

Who could tell me what these are... It's something just like this, only--

And all the support that Montclair State has to offer has been great too, because you need a lot of support for this.

So what numbers do we have to subtract?

Naomi: One of the things I'm trying to teach Joe is, sometimes you have to be flexible within your planning, and so I let him see my lesson plans as well. They're certainly not as thought out and as detailed, because you just don't have the time. If I spent three hours planning every lesson, you know, I'd have no life.

Fran: Your lesson was incredibly well planned.

Narrator: Once a week, student teachers meet with their professor and cooperating teacher to get feedback on their progress.

Naomi: You know, aside from the emotional benefits and positive feedback that you gave to them, when you're talking about difference, maybe write the actual number model on the board. So instead of-- and explain what that is, that you're subtracting from the higher number to the lower number--

Joe: I go home at the end of the day smiling, even though I'm stressed out, even though I know I still have an hour or two at home planning, I feel good about it.

Who can tell me what a mile is?

Man: So using this panel right here, we have control over the whole room, so we can turn the lights down--

Narrator: As part of their emphasis on technology, Montclair created several classrooms of the future where students and recent graduates can try out tech-infused lessons.

Man: This controls everything in the classroom. Now I'm actually gonna put it up on the vacuuming camera, so you can see what we're looking at.

Ada: And when our graduates are out in the schools, they're always welcome to bring a class here, if they don't have that capacity in their school. And we work with the teachers in our partner schools as well, so that their comfort level goes up.

Man: Okay, so you're gonna vote on which president you wanna research, and each student's gonna come up with one clue.

Narrator: To play an historical WebQuest game, this fifth grade class was divided into two adjoining classrooms that were linked by a teleconference.

Teacher: So where do you think might be a good place to start searching for information on James K. Polk?

Student: Google.

Teacher: Great place to start, what do you think?

Student: You would do Wikipedia too, 'cause it has a lot of the information.

Teacher: Yes, yes--

Ada: People will often say, "Aren't you teaching your students about technology that they're not gonna have access to when they actually go out in the classrooms?" That may be true to some extent but what we've found and what the research shows is that there's a lot more technology in schools than teachers actually know how to make use of. The students may, but the teachers are not that adept.

Teacher: Okay, so we are going to come up and read our clues.

Student: He only served on term as President.

Student: He lost an election in the early nineteen hundreds.

Ada: By raising our students' comfort level with trying out new things and with doing different things, they learn how to have their students create blogs. They learn how to teach their students to make digital stories, as a literacy strategy. So they're not intimidated by what's there.

Teacher: All right, so our guess for President, we're gonna say it all together.

All: James Polk.

Ada: And then we hope that they will advocate for more technology in the schools that they teach in.

Amanda: We're a lot more concerned with getting through the curricular goals and standards.

Narrator: Montclair believes that new teachers need to be prepared to face the challenges of their profession head on, and when necessary, become advocates for change.

Fran: Teachers have to have a voice. Right now, standardized tests are a reality. The question is, how do we deal with them? Yes, we do have to prepare the students for some of the tests, but we also have the obligation to advocate for something that we think may or may not be appropriate.

Teacher: So I think [inaudible] would be going for all students.

Narrator: In the school's urban teaching academy, students study everything from culturally responsive curriculum design to school finance issues.

Ana: What I'm hearing, you're taking a political strategy.


Ana: We can't change it all overnight. There's going to be political resistance to it, and that's part of the struggle with equalizing funding.

It's important for them to not only see the problems, but begin to envision possibilities for bringing about change. And in order to be an agent of change in schools, you have to be informed. If you don't know how schools are funded, if you don't know how monies are distributed, you cannot put pressure and act in ways to bring about the changes that are needed.

Teacher: I will never be, you know, absolutely ready, because teaching is like this never ending journey--

Narrator: At weekly support group meetings, the student teachers learn to lean on one another.

Fran: A lot of times, new teachers are reluctant to ask for help, because they think that it doesn't bode well for them, they should know everything. And we wanna let them know that you can't know everything, you know, and how to get assistance when you need it.

Teacher: The last thing would be, what's the difference between what you estimated and what you actually got.

Ada: I don't believe that good teachers are born. I believe that we educate people to become good teachers. Students come to us already with a love of learning, and our job is to help them translate that love of learning and a desire to work with children or young adolescents and a desire to make a difference in society. We need to take that and develop it into a person who has the skills and the strategies and the knowledge to achieve that, because it isn't so easy. It's actually quite difficult.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Orlando Video Productions


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Altagracia Valdez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was just accepted into the teaching program, along with the Urban Teaching Academy. As a student, I am proud to say that I appreciate the intellectuals that worked hard to come up with the details of the program. For students that are thinking about becoming a teacher in the future, I would advise to seriously think about MSU. I do not want to sound like an advertisement; I just want to let everyone know that as a future teacher I really think that I made the correct choice. The experience gained from the program can't compare to any surrounding universities.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank goodness new teachers are still being trained before they are placed in low income,low functioning schools. The Montclair NJ teacher training program is superior in every way to the Teach for America intern program that throws new teachers, without student teaching experience, into schools that are difficult for even the most veteran teacher.

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