Classroom-Worthy on Day 1

Even with 10 years’ experience under his belt, award-winning Knoxville history teacher Seth Rayman says his bachelor’s degree and the teacher preparation he received at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are still paying dividends for him.

He completed his bachelor’s degree in 1997 and did his teaching internship the next year. Rayman—who last year placed third in the nation in the History Channel/Civil War Preservation Trust Best Lesson Plan Contest and in May 2003 was honored as the U.S. Cellular/WATE-TV 6 Educator of the Month—now teaches social studies at Hardin Valley Academy, Knox County’s newest high school.

“I think of UT’s teacher-education program as a one-year on-the-job training program or a yearlong interview. I still draw upon my internship experience from 10 years ago,” he says.

“We work very closely”

teacher reading to childrenAT UTK, teacher preparation is a 5-year process. Students first earn a bachelor’s degree in their chosen discipline from the College of Arts and Sciences, along with a minor in teacher education. Then after graduating, they return to campus to complete the requirements for teacher licensure. That involves some additional coursework and a full school year teaching internship through the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.

Melissa Parker, director of Arts and Sciences Advising Services, says UT’s Teacher Education Program requires a close working relationship between the two colleges.

Since a large number of students enter UT Knoxville knowing they want to teach, the collaboration begins at summer orientation sessions. Incoming freshmen learn how the process works, and what requirements they’ll have to meet to be admitted to the Teacher Education Program.

“We work really hard with these students to help them identify with the College of Arts and Sciences,” Parker says.

At the same time, these students also work with an advisor in the College of Education. “They will always throughout their undergraduate years have the benefit of two advisors,” she says.

While most students move successfully through the program, the system also provides a solid fallback for students whose college experiences end up taking them a different direction. Students who decide they don’t want to teach still emerge with a liberal arts degree. And students who fail to get admitted to UT’s teacher licensure program can take their liberal arts degree to another Tennessee college that offers teacher education.

UTK teacher intern Jenna Rader—who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has completed additional studies in geography and history—says she felt reassured having her undergraduate work as backup.

“I knew I wanted to teach,” says Rader who spent a portion of her internship teaching 3rd grade at Grand Oaks Elementary in Clinton, Tennessee, and is now continuing her internship by teaching 4th grade at Claxton Elementary School in Powell. “But there was always that slim possibility that I would not get into the program or that when I actually get experience, I would decide it wasn’t really what I was meant to do. I am glad that I had that other major to fall back on.”

Teaching the teachers

Professor Stu Elston teaches an introductory course in physics.

His classroom isn’t packed with would-be teachers; most of his students are heading to other careers. But he wants to make sure that the few aspiring teachers who do come through his classroom leave not only with a solid background in science but also with an idea of how science should be taught.

“It is critically important to model good instruction methods to prospective teachers,” he said. “There is an old adage that ‘we teach the way we were taught.’ I struggle in every class to avoid the temptation to simply lecture (which is the way I was taught) and to employ techniques that research in physics education has shown to be more effective—things like using cooperative learning groups and guided inquiry methods.”

Elston said he thinks UT’s teacher-education system is good because it helps ensure that future teachers have a sound background in their subject area. “Students at any level can easily detect a teacher who is unsure of his or her subject,” he said.

Marcia Goldenstein, a professor in the School of Art, said there are usually two or three teacher-education students in each of her 200-level courses.

“The course objectives and expectations are the same, regardless of a student’s major or professional goals,” she said. “It is important to all of us that teachers who go into the public or private schools are well prepared and knowledgeable and have met the challenges of our courses. In the School of Art, we feel sure that students who earn B.F.A. degrees are able to teach with confidence.”

How it works

After earning the specified number of hours toward their bachelor’s degrees (60 hours for elementary education; 75 for secondary education), students aspiring to be teachers must go through an interview to seek admission to UT’s Teacher Education Program. This typically happens during a student’s sophomore year.

It’s a rigorous process, and not all students who apply are accepted.

“We don’t see this as a factory,” says Lynn Cagle, associate dean who directs the office of professional licensure in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS).

To apply for the Teacher Education Program, students must have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.70, have had experience with young people, possess good interview skills, pass a criminal background check, and have a good overall understanding of the program.

Cagle says he expects about 300 students to be accepted into the program during the two admission periods this year. Somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent of applicants will be turned away, depending upon the program and the size of the applicant pool.

teach pointing to mapOf the 300 students who are accepted, about 125 will be in secondary education (grades 7 through 12); about 100 will be elementary education (grades K through 6); and the remaining 75 will be spread out among the other licensure areas, including middle grades, early childhood, special education, and school counseling.

When accepting students into the teacher education program, CEHHS administrators also must look at the disciplines. A limited number of slots are available in each discipline, with the areas most in need being math, science, special education, and foreign languages.

Once accepted in the Teacher Education Program, the students begin taking teacher-education courses. Tennessee requires a minor in teacher education for licensure. For elementary education, that means 25 credit hours; for secondary education, it’s 16 hours.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, the students embark on their internship—a full year of teaching in an area school. It’s a far cry from what used to be called “student teaching.”

Interns work side-by-side with their assigned mentor teacher from the first day of the school year to the last. As the year progresses, they assume a growing amount of responsibility until, by the end of the year, they are functioning as the sole classroom teacher.

In addition to the internship, students in the professional year also must complete 24 hours of teacher education course work and do a research project drawn from their classroom experience. About 95 percent of the students stay on after their internship to complete the additional 12 hours of course work needed for a master’s degree, says Dulcie Peccolo, CEHHS director of student services.

Progressive program

UT’s teacher education hasn’t always been set up this way.

UT Knoxville moved to his model for its secondary education training program in 1987; the elementary training program transitioned to it in 1989. Before that, students majored in teacher education, minored in their discipline, and spent a semester “student teaching.”

Lynn Cagle says the change came about because UT wanted to improve its program and distinguish itself from other colleges and universities in Tennessee that educate teachers.

In 1984 the Holmes Group—a national consortium of education experts—already was advocating moving teacher education to a post-baccalaureate program. The college’s new dean at the time decided UT Knoxville should follow that recommendation.

One of the reasons a change was needed, Cagle says, is that there was an epidemic of young teachers leaving the profession. Nationwide, as many as 35 percent to 40 percent were leaving the profession after only a few years on the job.

“They weren’t really prepared for the reality of the classroom,” he says. “They didn’t have that reservoir, that depth of knowledge and experience.”

Today UT Knoxville is the only one among the 41 colleges and universities in Tennessee that uses the post-baccalaureate model. Nationwide, only a handful of institutions—including Michigan State, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Kansas—use it, Cagle says.

The No Child Left Behind federal initiative requires teachers to be “highly qualified”—that is, having about 24 college credit hours—in the subjects they teach. Yet it doesn’t require them to have a full major in the subject, about 30 credit hours, as UT Knoxville does.

Listing the benefits

Cagle says school districts seek out UT teacher education graduates. “They can hit the ground running,” he says. “Employers don’t have to hold their hand for the first six months.”

What differences has the program made in teacher education?

First, Cagle says, is the depth and length of the experience the fifth-year internship provides. The retention rate for UT-trained teachers is upwards of 90 percent, he says. Only a handful of students drop out of the program midyear. “If you make it through a full year of the internship—with the intensity, the expense, the psychological drain—you’re probably going to stay,” he says.

For many students, the internship is in effect a yearlong job interview. At West High School in Knoxville, for instance, more than 30 interns have been hired as full-time teachers after their internships ended.

“It’s like ‘grow your own,’ ” Cagle says.

Second, he says, is that candidates’ earning a bachelor’s degree in their discipline produces teachers who can walk into the classroom confident in the knowledge of their subject matter.

Rayman credits UTK history professor Stephen Ash and former UTK instructor John McManus for really igniting his love of history, and he says he’s grateful for the wide variety of history courses he was able to take.

“UT was very creative in their course offerings because, besides the large survey courses on U.S. history and world history, you could take classes with a special focus or on a specific time period,” he says. “It would really open your eyes. I didn’t realize all the variety you could choose from. I think it engaged me even more in the field of history.”

And, Cagle says, the preparation and experience equips UT students to become leaders in the schools where they work—from interns who report that other student teachers seek their advice, to veteran teachers like Rayman who garner teaching awards.

Rayman says he still collaborates with Matt McWhirter, the teacher who served as his mentor during his internship in 1998. McWhirter is now the head of the Social Studies Department at Bearden High School.

“He did an excellent job of showing me how to engage students with critical-thinking skills and analyze issues and historical events,” he says.

For Rayman the love of history and teaching, nurtured and developed during his days at UT, continue to grow. “I love seeking new and creative ways to teach interactive lessons to students in the ever-adapting and changing technological world,” he says. “You always have to stay a step ahead and get more and more creative. It constantly makes you want to improve as a teacher.

“It is rewarding to know that you developed a lesson, taught it, had success with it, and helped students to the ultimate goal of becoming lifelong learners.”

—Amy Blakely