Would-be teachers learn by observing Experience: Before formal student teaching takes place, TSU juniors get a chance to know children and their learning patterns.

December 08, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

To glimpse what many see as the future of teacher education in America, don't visit your local college campus.

Rather, drive out Reisterstown Road to Owings Mills Elementary, site of one of several "professional development schools" in the metropolitan area. There you'll see 14 Towson State University juniors in what would be a residency - were they studying to be physicians.

Five Towson State education professors come down from the ivory tower to teach the would-be teachers at the Owings Mills school. Four days a week the TSU students, each paired with a veteran Owings Mills teacher, observe, study and, on occasion, take on a solo teaching assignment.

But the formal student teaching won't come until these students' senior year. This year is for study and reflection, getting to know children and their learning patterns, perhaps finding out that teaching isn't the ideal profession they thought it was. They're at Owings Mills, as Towson State student Jason Ferreira put it, "to take it all in."

Said Karyn Duff, a Towson student from Howard County who is paired with fourth-grade teacher Dan Martino, "I've found it's really hard work, and more than once I've been in tears.

"It's possible I won't become a teacher, but every once in a while something happens that makes it wonderful. Like when a girl couldn't wait for me to come in one morning to tell me breathlessly that her mom had had a baby. It was me she was waiting to tell, and that made me feel great."

The professional development school differs markedly from the traditional approach to training teachers, which requires a period of student teaching, usually six weeks to a semester in length, at the end of the senior year.

In the traditional program, students take their "methods" courses - the often-maligned instruction in the methodology of teaching - on campus. Their professors might venture into the schools where they've been placed for practice teaching, but the two cultures - that of the academy and that of the school - remain separate, as though a medical school had no place in a hospital.

"Sadly, the two cultures are almost totally distinct," said Dennis Hinkle, dean of education at Towson State, which also has professional development schools at Cromwell Elementary, Halstead Academy and Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore County and Jessup Elementary in Anne Arundel County.

"The PDS [professional development school] is asking the question, 'Who's responsible for training teachers?' in a different way. If the answer is that it's a village, and I believe it is, then it

takes a much larger group of people than it has in the past."

Owings Mills Elementary is the campus for the TSU students during their junior and senior years. It's a school with an enrollment just more than half African-American. About half of its students qualify for free lunches, and its scores in the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program are closer to the bottom of county schools than to the top.

The school also is crowded - 728 students in perpetual motion packed into a building dating to the 1920s but with several additions and portable buildings. One of those portable buildings, reached by a plywood sidewalk across a muddy field, is the classroom and office for the TSU students.

"The school is the ideal laboratory for a PDS," said Chet Scott, the energetic Owings Mills principal. "This isn't your upper-middle-class school where conditions are ideal. They'll get realistic look at Baltimore County public education right here."

On a typical day recently, the Towson students spent the morning hours in their classrooms, watching, learning, seeing how teachers handled emergencies, how they encouraged good behavior, how they addressed behavior problems.

In the late morning, they repaired to the portable classroom for a lesson on children's literature taught by TSU Professor Lynn Cole. Then it was back to the school library, where the Towson students read the books they were studying in Cole's class to small groups of Owings Mills students.

It's the back and forth between the theory absorbed in the TSU classroom and the immediate practice in the adjacent elementary school that distinguishes the professional development approach from the traditional ways of teacher education, said Scott.

Duff, the TSU student working in the fourth grade, said she already had learned some "hard lessons about teaching. I really like the kids, and as a human being, I want them to like me," she said.

"But Dan says you have to get their respect first. Then, but only then, do you worry about whether they like you. We've had a real clash over that issue."

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