Sometimes you have to let programs simmer for awhile until they’re ready. I’ve been waiting for this day to come for over a year, when Frostburg State University faculty were excited about a new federally grant-funded program. It was promising that they were part of a Coppin State University-led program that just received a $3.6 million infusion from the U.S. Department of Education.
Today we’re at the point we’re ready to share and demonstrate the promise of the program with a success story and the launch of the first phase of the program. We packaged this feature I wrote with the press release we distributed with Coppin to show two sides of the program: the nuts and bolts and then the human interest story.
Like the program itself, the communication of Pathways to Professions (P2P) is a joint venture with FSU and CSU’s media relations offices working as one.
The human interest story also includes key information about P2P so readers can grasp this mammoth undertaking. Expect to hear more about P2P over the next five years and beyond. The hope is that this a model for other universities and K-12 school districts.
By Charles Schelle
When Brianna Hopkins needed a student to behave, she thought staring down the student with a stern look might do the trick.
In Baltimore’s Gwynns Falls Elementary School, it worked flawlessly. At Mount Savage Elementary School, located in a small Allegany County town, the student giggled. Lesson learned for Hopkins.
“It was funny because she said ‘Miss Hopkins, why are you looking at me like that? Is there something in your eye?’” said Hopkins, a 2017 graduate of Frostburg State University. “I thought that it was funny because it was such a culture difference.”
That’s the point of a new U.S. Department of Education grant-funded program implemented through Coppin State University and Frostburg State University: to allow teacher candidates be prepared for anything in any classroom. It’s called Pathways 2 Professions and has officially launched this fall.
Maryland is in many ways a miniature America with snowy mountains in the west transitioning to farmland and urban cities and then to sandy beaches along the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. The population is as diverse across the state as the geography, and if teacher candidates can figure out how to scale unfamiliar terrain in two starkly different Maryland classrooms, they can teach anywhere in the country.
To make this program possible, Coppin State and Frostburg State — both part of the University System of Maryland—collaborated to redesign curriculum to improve teacher effectiveness and student success. Their efforts resulted in a proposal where Coppin State was awarded a five-year, $3.6 million Teacher Quality Partnership Grant to develop the Frostburg State partnership.
Dr. Yi Huang, associate dean/associate professor of CSU College of Arts & Sciences and Education is the author and principal investigator of the grant. Dr. Kim Rotruck, acting associate dean of FSU’s College of Education, is the co-principal investigator. Both are joined by several other faculty members from both institutions as well as partners with various agencies to design the program.
“Teachers are the single most important factor in terms of impacting if a student can learn and improve or not,” Huang said. “By improving teacher effectiveness, you have a much greater chance to improve student learning. That was the ultimate goal. We have a greater goal of inclusive excellence.”
The challenge was worth pursuing for faculty at Coppin and Frostburg to take prospective teachers out of their comfort zones to expand their skillset by managing classrooms in a different part of the state, Rotruck said.
“FSU instructors believe their students need every opportunity to meet the challenges of today’s classroom. We want to provide as many opportunities for their success,” Rotruck said. “This Coppin partnership has definitely changed their perspective and allowed them to grow as teachers.”
How Pathways 2 Professions Works
To understand how teacher candidates can work outside of a system, it’s important to know how they work within a system to become a teacher.
Maryland has a Professional Development School Network that identifies at which K-12 schools teacher-candidates can complete their required 100-day internships. Those schools are affiliated with a higher education institution within their region.
FSU, for instance, has partner schools in Allegany County, Washington County, western Frederick County and eastern Garrett County. CSU’s network extends to a several Baltimore city schools in a one-to-three-mile radius of the campus.
CSU and FSU, both with nationally accredited teaching programs, ensure that the schools and teachers they work with in these K-12 PDSN sites are meeting standards to teach future teachers. Also, it helps that the schools are in a defined area to prevent, for example, a Garrett County teacher having to drive to Ocean City for a required site visit.
The multi-layered P2P program provides an additional opportunity to the 100-day internship to practice teaching to a different demographic in a contrasting geographical setting in Maryland by establishing support at each university and PDSN sites. The Coppin-Frostburg partnership works because it’s a defined set of schools, along with college faculty familiar with each other who worked together to define standards and expectations of what this would look like.
These one-week internships take place following the education majors’ six-week internship at their home institution’s professional development schools. Students also complete group site visits to partner schools earlier in the process.
“We tried many different models of people observing and spending time in Baltimore classrooms, but we never found a collaborative model that is so well coordinated to provide these students with experiences beyond observation,” Rotruck said. “Now they are participating in diverse environments.”
These teacher candidates examine their own stereotypes, their background, upbringing and misconceptions about teaching in urban or rural schools and check them at the door.
“Until somebody asks you to do it, you don’t think about how your culture influences your instruction and your decision making,” said FSU Professor of Educational Professions Dr. Janet Mattern, who is the FSU site director for P2P.
Here’s how students unpack how their personality and way of life influences their teaching:
- In the first phase, FSU and CSU education majors will conduct site visits at professional development schools to observe classrooms and gain initial exposure to schools in a different part of the state. The first visits will take place in October.
- FSU and CSU students collaborate on assignments online through Blackboard and work on developing curriculum together.
- In the second phase, planned for the spring of 2018, FSU students have a one-week internship, or residential clinical rotation, in an urban professional development school near Coppin. CSU students do the same at a FSU professional development network school. Teacher-candidates must complete P2P competency-based activities in order to be part of this experience. The first clinical rotations are planned for spring 2018.
Students who successfully complete components of the program are awarded P2P MicroCredentials that will appear on their transcripts to show they acquired specialized skills through this unique experience. The pilot implementation of the P2P MicroCredentials in Teaching Effectiveness will begin in fall 2017 at CSU and FSU. Plans are in the works to develop MicroCredentials that teacher candidates could earn during their two-year induction phase, and convert into Continuing Professional Development credits for teacher certification.
From Big Savage Mountain to Baltimore
When students traded places in a pilot clinical round, their perceptions changed.
FSU students learned why Baltimore public schools require uniforms, experienced a city where minorities are the majority, and saw students facing the same issues that students in Western Maryland face. CSU students could see the effects of poverty in some rural communities and the lack of racial diversity in K-12 schools.
“One of the students’ assumption was that African American students would face economic challenges. In rural areas that are predominately white, poverty is still a major aspect that impact a student’s life, emotional development,” Huang said. “That’s one thing that they were able to connect to — that students faced challenges in rural and urban environments.”
The experiences help teacher candidates make adjustments. That could be something as little as enforcing certain classroom rules like raising a hand to ask or answer a question or if certain students are more comfortable with using a tablet instead of pen and paper, Mattern said.
“Until you start unpacking those things, you don’t even realize you do it because it’s just a part of who you are,” Mattern said. “What do you value? What do you believe? The way you were raised influences every interaction you have.”
The program isn’t intended to make teachers feel like they have to have all the answers, said Dr. Boyce Williams, interim dean for FSU’s College of Education.
“You give them the tools they need, not to be able to solve all the problems children come with but to have been exposed to best practices and to know that I need to seek help,” such as from a school nurse or psychologist, Williams said. “I’m expected to teach all students, but I can’t be everything to all. But I certainly ought to know and identify when there is some type of need, an issue or a challenge, and be able to go to the resources for support.”
‘They want to be loved’
Hopkins, a Baltimore resident, was part of a pilot test of the program before the official launch, teaching at Gwynns Falls Elementary in Baltimore and at Mount Savage Elementary School, outside of Frostburg. She also interned at Route 40 Elementary School in Garrett County, where she opened up the eyes of some rural, white children.
“I had kids who were brushing my skin because they thought my skin was going to feel different because it was brown. I didn’t mind, and I was happy to share with them that we’re all humans,” said Hopkins, who is African American. “We have different shades of skin but that doesn’t matter. You get hungry, I get hungry. You get thirsty, I get thirsty. If someone says something mean to you, it hurts your feelings. The same with mine. It was nice to have that experience.”
Hopkins learned how much and how little race is part of the conversation in education. Hopkins grew up in Catonsville and attended a predominately white elementary school. She said she had to adjust to the culture in middle school, which was more of a diverse melting pot, then adjust again at a predominately African American high school in Baltimore city, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Her schooling background taught her a lot, but it’s another aspect to teach students accustomed to certain environments.
The young students Hopkins taught were not fixated on race, she said.
“I realized after this internship that children don’t see color unless you make it a big deal. They just want to be loved, regardless if it’s Allegany County or Baltimore City Public Schools,” Hopkins said. “They just want to learn, and they want to be loved.”
That’s the key: that all children deserve to be taught and to feel validated. And if teacher candidates like Hopkins can recognize that, the program will be a success by improving both teachers and students.
“Brianna will be able to teach anywhere. The idea is that sometimes urban and rural schools are very similar but also very different,” Huang said. “The idea is now they have the advantage over the typical teacher preparation program. They actually have that kind of experience.”