Teacher Education at USI
Fifteen University of Southern Indiana students are participating in a new full-year student teaching pilot program called "Teach Now, Transform Tomorrow," which began in fall 2015. USI partnered with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) to provide students with extensive hands-on experience, while serving as a resource for two local schools.
Unlike other student teaching programs, which revolve around the University calendar and last only one semester, this pilot program spans the entire EVSC school year, allowing participants to form closer bonds with their students and cooperative teachers.
Lodge Community and Lincoln Elementary are the two participating EVSC schools. Both have struggled to raise their state grade, and were chosen because a majority of the students attending are low-income or high-risk. One goal of "Teach Now, Transform Tomorrow" is to teach education majors about the unique needs and challenges facing low-income students and, at the same time, to create a more productive learning environment for those students.
Katelyn Powless, a senior elementary education major at USI, co-teaches in a second grade classroom at Lincoln. The Boonville native said she quickly learned it was important for students to know she cared about them and had their best interests in mind. "It's difficult sometimes to work with high-risk students, but the reward is so much greater," states Powless.
Discussions about an extended clinical experience began in 2014 during a brainstorming session between USI and representatives from area school corporations. These discussions led to a partnership between USI and EVSC. Gina Berridge, associate professor of education, and other education professors wanted to form a partnership with EVSC, "but we didn't know what that partnership would look like," she said. "Our resources were our students, and their resources were their schools. It's a great opportunity to have our students work at schools that need help the most."
USI's new program spans the majority of the public school year, setting it apart from most other universities’ teacher preparation programs. By extending the program's length, USI students get the opportunity to see how teachers begin the school year and establish relationships with their students.
USI's student teaching program is rigorous. All of the candidates undergo the same interview-hire process as teachers. Students are matched with their cooperative teachers in April and begin preparing for the school year at the end of July.
Students in the year-long experience follow the Co-Teaching Model with their cooperating teachers. This model has the student teacher involved in classroom life from the first day of the experience. The student teacher shares in the planning, instructing and assessing. Student teachers have supervisory duties, attend faculty meetings and participate in parent conferences. They become immersed in the culture of the classroom and school.
In addition to teaching in the classroom five days a week, the USI students take a full course load of upper-level classes in the fall semester. Berridge and Terri Branson, instructor in teacher education, teach some of the classes at the schools, while other courses are offered online or at night. Berridge said she and Branson try to make the assignments flexible, while maintaining the standards of 300- and 400-level courses.
USI senior Elizabeth Wilm, elementary education major, who works in a fifth grade class at Lincoln, said it’s difficult to manage her busy schedule. "Last year, I was a college student, and now I have the same responsibilities as a teacher. This is almost like a first year of teaching."
Participants in the program, however, said they wouldn't trade the experience. "I've learned more in this program than I learned from three years in a classroom," Powless said. "It's one thing to have someone lecture to you and another to actually do it."
USI and EVSC will research and monitor "Teach Now, Transform Tomorrow" over the next year to determine how well the program works. Berridge said she thinks it has a bright future and will likely return next year. "We've had really positive feedback from the principals," she said. "They think it's working, not only for their schools but also for our students."