Given the current need for qualified substitutes and the demand for skilled teachers, we have taken a step back and reimagined how to better prepare pre-service teacher candidates for the complexities of today’s teaching. We have established a partnership between Putnam Northern Westchester (PNW) Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), local public school districts and colleges/universities with graduate education programs in the lower Hudson Valley region of New York. As such, it is a regional model designed to meet the needs of all constituents while deepening the preparation of these graduate students by embedding them in schools.
This is one model that is working effectively and benefits all stakeholders. It has proven to be a valuable recruitment strategy in a time of significant teacher shortages. Through this partnership, districts cultivate the next generation of teacher candidates so that when they have a teaching vacancy they can, and do, turn to recent interns to fill these.
As educators and leaders, there is always a give-back component to our profession that drives us to help improve the next generation of teachers. In this case, it helps schools right now. It showcases how we are better when we partner together.
Putting theory into practice
Our vision is to deepen the preparation of these teachers of tomorrow. Teaching has become increasingly complex, with skills needed to be successful in schools impossible to learn solely in college classrooms. It is through immersion or embedding these pre-service candidates in schools and classrooms as interns that we can offer this on-the-job training. Our interns are currently enrolled in graduate programs and are able to put theory into practice on a daily basis.
Essential to the success of this program is the partnership aspect. All participating district staff members have a role in this process. Principals and leaders join the intern coordinator for the final screening and participate in monthly professional development panels throughout the year. Teachers play an important role by hosting interns on a rotating basis in their classrooms. It is by opening their doors and opening their practices that we are able to offer learning that is contextualized then modeled, practiced and guided.
Working together for a greater purpose
Within the model lies the overarching altruism of the profession as all school partners give their time and expertise willingly and without any financial compensation. Each partner district supports our ongoing professional development in this way.
The section of the monthly program labeled “Experts from the Field” showcases teachers and administrators who speak on the designated topic with real examples from the classrooms and their respective school districts. It is this sense of working together for a greater purpose that elevates this partnership to a professional learning community that is united in a common purpose: readying and launching the next generation of teachers.
Observation, reflection and learning
Interns apply through PNW BOCES’ Online Application System for K-12 Education and are interviewed and cleared by the intern coordinator before being matched with a particular school and district. Placements are determined by degree and content area along with district needs and geographic issues for the intern.
Interns enter at varying points in their graduate program, with a minimum of one semester prior to student teaching. The maximum stay is a two-year commitment. Once placed, they are processed as district employees and become a part of the school community.
Each Wednesday is held as a day of observation, reflection and learning. Interns are able to complete their fieldwork observation hours required for their graduate programs on this day as well as attend monthly professional development sessions.
There are many benefits that meet the unique needs of schools and students. Interns exit the program with current skill sets prepared to meet the needs of all learners. They have learned to navigate the day-to-day running of a school organization and have gained experience. Data indicates that the program is successful in launching them into educational positions.
When our interns are part of a faculty and are assigned to substitute, the students benefit as well since the transitions are seamless and the flow of instruction continues. Principals are happy to have in their schools both trained substitutes as well as potential leave replacement candidates. Teachers request interns as their subs in order to maintain the continuity of instruction and student support.
Colleges are supportive of this model and benefit from having ready placements for their candidates’ capstone semester. Interns see the value of this program as they gain experience and are given opportunities to model and practice what they learn from master teachers. They learn how to learn, how to face challenges and how to reach out for help in a safe and supportive environment.
Experience matters. Combine it with guidance, feedback, mentoring and the support of a school community, and our profession will benefit from the next generation of qualified teaching candidates.
Loretta R. Butler is the intern coordinator for the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES in New York. She is also a former teacher, school district administrator and adjunct graduate professor.