Education at its finest – preparing effective classroom teachers

Education reform is a hot topic nationally. The United States is under fire for low rankings, average to subpar teacher performance and poor student achievement. There seems to be an array of commentary and solutions, from blue-ribbon education reports to innovative projects aimed at enhancing student learning, teacher preparation and professional development. But what really makes an effective teacher?

Preparing teachers
 Lynette Lender, '97, a teacher at HLV Community School, helps UNI senior Amanda McGill get ready to teach.

 It just so happens that Iowa is well known for its commitment to education. Couple that with UNI's strong reputation for preparing high-quality teachers and its leadership in many state and national initiatives to enhance teacher quality -- it's only fitting that UNI and the Iowa Department of Education were chosen to lead a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant. TQP is a five-year $9 million partnership, including Stanford University designed to raise student achievement by improving the effectiveness of teachers.

The purpose of Iowa's Teacher Quality Partnership (ITQP) is to reform university teacher preparation programs and improve learning and achievement in high-need rural schools.  Rural schools face additional educational challenges including population decline, budget challenges, socio-economic challenges, teacher retention and a high need for multi-disciplined teachers to teach a variety of ages.

In October, nearly 40 UNI education students were placed in the schools for their Level III Field Experience. Students taught a variety of classes and assumed the role of teacher the last two days. Students also got a taste of rural life during their home stays with local families.This past fall, UNI partnered with five Iowa rural school districts including CAL Community School in Latimer; HLV Community School in Victor; Midland Community School in Wyoming; Springville Community School in Springville; and West Fork Community School in Sheffield.

 "Being in a rural school was an amazing experience," said Amanda McGill, UNI senior at HLV Community School. "The first thing I noticed was the community feeling. The teachers collaborated so well together, and I never once felt out of place. Another thing was the support of the administration. The principal was in and out of my classroom each day checking in, and the teachers talked about how open he was to new teaching ideas and methods. I felt that this rural setting focused more on the students as individual children, rather than as a whole unit."

"I thought that this experience was a lot more interactive and I got a lot more out of this experience than any other that I previously had." – Dustin Patterson, UNI senior, West Fork Community School

 A significant part of the ITQP includes the use of technology as a platform for UNI students to reflect on their effectiveness in the classroom. UNI students video recorded themselves teaching and reviewing the data with the actual teacher in the classroom to assess their effectiveness in teaching lessons.

"The TQP program proved to be a wonderful experience for all involved, said Lynette Lender, '97, sixth grade teacher at HLV Community School. "Our sixth graders were able to learn more about the college experience and truly connected with Miss McGill. Having the UNI students stay in the community was a wonderful complement to the program.  I hosted two students, and it was so fun and relaxing to talk about education while sharing a family dinner." 

 "I used an iPod touch to record my social studies lesson," said Lindsey Johnston, a UNI senior, who spent her week at CAL Elementary School. "My teacher and I viewed it while we talked through my evaluation. Being able to see myself teach was very helpful. I could easily see my strong points and areas that need more work. My teacher was able to show me in the video what things were working and what things weren't. I might not have realized certain areas of weakness if I had not seen it in the video clip."

Teacher with student

UNI student teacher Kate Glime helps a student at HLV Community School with her assignment.

 That assessment comes back full circle where UNI faculty review the students' assessments, offering a real life account of what their students are learning and what they as faculty might need to adjust in their own classes and clinical experiences.

 "I realized that I have many great strengths that I have learned from my experiences at UNI including a large list of management techniques," said McGill. "I did appreciate the fact that I was able to realize that I did not always approach teaching with the right goals for the method I was using. I learned that I need to tailor my teaching according to what I hope to achieve."

 It's not just UNI students and faculty who benefit, but the rural schools benefit from the ITQP partnership through technology equipment for their classrooms, technology specialists and resources, professional development, mentoring and more.

 "TQP is making me think back to my prepping skills as a teacher, and it also makes me want to reflect back more on my lessons after they have been taught," said Kevin Kuker '03, high school social studies teacher at West Fork Community School. "These are both attributes that are stressed for young, beginning teachers. I feel veteran teachers can certainly help to evaluate the effectiveness of beginning teachers and can also help to further mentor them through any challenges that might occur."

 You know the saying "it takes a whole village to raise a child" – well ITQP is like that village, but the village is focused on preparing the best and most effective teachers for today's classrooms.

One of the goals of ITQP is to infuse more educational technology in both UNI's education classes and in the rural schools. It's a win-win for everyone involved. Rural schools that don't have access to the latest technology and education resources benefit, and UNI students gain more teaching experiences.