by: Ellen McIntyre, Dean of the Cato College of Education
A generous gift of $540,000 from Gene and Vickie Johnson of Charlotte to the Cato College of Education has the potential to dramatically change how teachers are prepared. The gift will provide substantial stipends to clinical educators—the teachers in schools who mentor and coach student teachers—in return for collaborative work with UNC Charlotte faculty.
Why is this a game changer? Across the country, university-based teacher education programs are striving to solve the disconnect between what is taught on campus and the instruction that happens in schools. Too many student teachers leave their programs with new practices and strategies in hand, only to leave them at the schoolhouse door when they begin to student teach. Some feel as if they are starting their education over, learning new language and practices not taught in their programs.
At the Cato College of Education, with the help of gifts from the Belk Foundation, we started a summer workshop called the Teacher Education Institute (TEI). TEI is an effort to eliminate silos between university-based teacher educators and our school partners, with specific attention to instructional practice. Our goal for the institute is for participants to come to a common understanding of quality teaching and to learn specific coaching techniques to support that model of teaching.
Our belief is that if campus instructors and school partners learn together and from one another about quality teaching, we can better prepare the next generation of teachers. Candidates get to practice the same strategies in schools with kids that they learn and practice on campus. We can now double down on the content, skills and practices we teach. This collaborative work continues after the summer institute into the next academic year.
Learning to coach new teachers takes time. It also takes an effort the clinical educators have not been expected to do previously. Limitations in funding only allowed us to pay clinical educators $200 if they agreed to mentor a student teacher, barely enough to take the family to dinner and a movie! The gift from Gene and Vickie Johnson will allow us to pay the clinical educators between $400 and $1600, depending on the teachers’ roles and training with campus partners. This extra stipend comes with an extra credential, that of teacher coach. Some of the teacher coaches will also partner with faculty members to teach courses, many of which will be taught in schools where our student teachers will practice. Finally, we will place faculty members in schools to coach and monitor our teacher candidates. These site coordinators also help schedule the classes and mentoring sessions in our partner schools.
The money to the teachers will make a difference. It will help high-level talent from having to take a second job, as so many do, or it might prevent them from leaving the classroom. It provides a new credential for their extra learning, and for some a new reasons to continue in the classroom.
These are exciting times for those of us in teacher preparation in North Carolina. Efforts are underway in multiple ways to galvanize the talent in universities and schools to better prepare teachers. The Professional Educator Preparation Standards Commission (PEPSC) is making recommendations for policy on programs. The UNC System’s Educator Preparation Advisory Committee is recommending practices and metrics. And the System just launched the Early Learning and Literacy Teacher Preparation Coalition. All of these groups promote strong partnerships with schools, evidence-based practices, and extensive clinical practice. Paying the clinical educators what they deserve for their roles in developing new teachers is among the final pieces in the challenge of preparing new teachers who are confident and skilled on their first day on the job.