Towson interns teach, learn

Education majors gain skills in schools

October 01, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

Norah Jean-Marie and student teacher Christine Coppage, a Towson University senior, looked over the prekindergartner's work.

Step 1: Draw the setting. Step 2: Glue on your favorite animal. Step 3: Tell about your drawing - in Norah's case a pig she had colored orange, red, black and yellow under the heading "The House on the Hill."

The assignment, pegged to a book the class recently read, gave the 5-year-old Hawthorne Elementary School student the chance to demonstrate many of the lessons she had learned in the past few days, such as the concept that book characters can be animals or people, how to follow directions and how to explain a story.

"At this age, everything they do is about learning," said the Middle River school's principal, Gerry DePetris. "The research shows that early learning development is the No. 1 predictor of school success."

At Hawthorne, Norah is among about 220 prekindergarten and kindergarten students who are enrolled in the county's newest early childhood education center - one of several that are housed within local schools.

The center at Hawthorne is the equivalent of the medical student's teaching hospital. The goal is to provide education majors from Towson University with two years of increasing responsibility that starts in their junior year, while the supply of interns enables the school to enroll more of the community's youngest students.

"This is very much a part of what we do now," Ocie Watson-Thompson, who heads the early childhood education department at Towson University, said of the teacher-training program. "It's no longer just simulation teaching. They're actually in there teaching."

Watson-Thompson said the university is part of similar programs in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City. In Baltimore County, other schools with such centers include Bear Creek, Hernwood, Middlesex, Reisterstown, Summit Park and Sussex elementaries and Campfield Early Childhood Center, she said.

Educators looking at these sites - which are called professional development schools - see the benefits. The school can start building early literacy and learning skills in the children that will serve them, and their families, for years to come, while exposing aspiring teachers to the realities of working in the classroom.

With increasing concerns about a national teacher shortage, programs like the one at Hawthorne have been credited with improving the ability of schools to hang on to beginning teachers. In a 2004 Towson University study, researchers found that 85 percent of the college's education graduates who participated in a program like that at Hawthorne were still teaching five years later, compared with the national average of less than 50 percent.

"I've heard personnel directors and principals say that when these graduates enter the profession, they're not really like first-year teachers," Watson-Thompson said. "They come in almost seasoned. They know the dynamics of the school. They come in with a real expectation of what teaching is, and they are ready to perform."

Watson-Thompson said she often advises interns not to get too attached because they might be hired elsewhere.

But often, the graduates are hired to work at the schools where they have interned, Watson-Thompson said, because the schools also get attached to them. Interns are treated like staff, DePetris said, and are included in staff meetings and professional development sessions.

The partnership between Towson and Hawthorne includes a visiting professor, who teaches courses at the school for the interns and who also holds monthly meetings with the school's full-time staff. The college students can walk down the hallway to see a living example of something they are learning from their books, DePetris said.

"They're able to see that real-life connection," said DePetris, a Towson graduate who started her education career in 1980 and who has taught part-time at the university for 13 years.

The idea for the center, which was launched last month and takes up an entire wing of the school, grew out of the need to relieve crowding at Deep Creek Elementary, DePetris said. When school officials decided to move Deep Creek's prekindergarten and kindergarten children to Hawthorne, DePetris saw the opportunity to expand the school's relationship with Towson.

Part of that partnership includes an effort to boost parent involvement by having interns lead workshops on topics such as literacy, early reading skills and the importance of physical education to a child's development.

Coppage, 26, is an intern in Susan Krause's prekindergarten class of 4- and 5-year-olds, who attend school in half-day sessions. During breaks, Coppage and Krause compare notes on lesson plans and which students need more help on particular concepts.

Krause, who has taught for 14 years, and Coppage said they like the arrangement because they are constantly exchanging ideas and coming up with ways to teach the kids.

"I like being able to have that support from a teacher and seeing what we're learning at Towson get implemented in the classroom," Coppage said. "I'm learning how much energy you have to put into teaching children. What they learn here will help them in later years."

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