This story was originally published on Chalkbeat.
After decades of training teachers in largely the same way, professors at the University of Michigan are making a radical change. They’re moving to end the longtime practice of sending educators into their own classrooms after just a few months of student teaching.
In its place, they’re creating a new method—one based on the way doctors are trained—that will extend teacher training through the first three years on the job, supporting them as they take on the daunting responsibility of educating children.
“It was very nerve-racking,” said Lisa Murray, who just finished her second year as an English teacher at Detroit’s Munger Elementary-Middle School. Before starting at Munger, she’d spent 14 weeks as a student teacher in a fourth-grade classroom but suddenly found herself teaching seventh-grade English. She had a supportive mentor at her new school, she said, but “ultimately you kind of have to figure it out. It’s kind of trial and error.”
That’s how teacher training has been for generations, said Elizabeth Moje, the dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan. “That’s what I did,” Moje said of her intimidating first teaching job when she was 21. “It’s what teachers do—and it’s ludicrous.” Moje hopes her new approach will not only lead to better outcomes for kids but will keep teachers in the classroom longer at a time when 1 in 10 are leaving the profession after their first year.
The new approach involves this: a K–12 teaching school, similar to a teaching hospital, where future teachers—called interns—will train together under a single roof. They’ll complete their student teaching there. Then, instead of heading out in search of a job in another school, they’ll stay on for three more years as full-time, fully certified teaching “residents.”
Residents won’t be trainees. They’ll be real classroom teachers working with real children and making a real salary—the same as any other first-, second-, or third-year teacher. But, unlike their peers in traditional schools, they’ll continue to learn from their professors and will work closely with the veteran teachers—called attendings—who will make up most of the school’s teaching staff.
Moje hopes to launch the teaching school as a partnership with a school or district in or near Detroit as soon as the fall of 2019.
Once it’s up and running, she said, she expects that between half and two-thirds of the faculty will be veteran teachers. The rest will be residents.
Moje is not the first to call for teacher training to look more like medical training. Some schools have hired new teachers as “associates“ before letting them fly solo in a classroom. A Denver school district has a new program that lets a handful of new teachers spend their first year working part time in a classroom and using the rest of their time to plan, observe, and hone their craft.
Moje’s teaching-school concept began in earnest around 2010 when Jonathan Zimmerman, who was the residency director for internal medicine at Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn, reached out to Moje and her colleague Bob Bain at Michigan’s education school for help developing a new evaluation tool for medical residents.
A partnership soon emerged that had Moje joining Zimmerman on medical rounds in the hospital and Zimmerman joining Moje to observe teachers training at Detroit’s Cody High School. The two soon noticed key differences in the way their students are taught. At Cody, for example, Zimmerman noted a classroom where a seasoned teacher was working with four student teachers. The classroom teacher had divided her high school students into four groups and had assigned a student teacher to lead each group.
“I saw them doing the very best they could to get the students to pay attention to a project,” Zimmerman said of the student teachers, but while all of the student teachers were focused on the teens they were working with, none of them were watching each other. The classroom teacher circulated to each of the small groups, but she could only see one group at a time, so the other three student teachers were largely on their own.
“They were all engaged in independent practice, which is great,” Moje said. But all of the student teachers were in the first semester of their training. Most had not yet developed much skill, so three of them at any time could have been doing something wrong “and no one would know,” she said.
In contrast, medical students, interns, residents, and attendings visit patients together in daily hospital rounds. Everyone has a role to play that includes learning from the person ahead of them in their training and teaching the person coming up behind them. When Moje and Zimmerman were on rounds one day last month at Beaumont-Dearborn, they were accompanied by a fourth-year medical student, a first-year resident (called an intern), and a second-year resident.
As the team visited a patient with a severe inflammation of the pancreas, Zimmerman asked David Dimcheff, the medical student, what he thought the patient needed next.
“We treat with antibiotics,” Dimcheff responded.
OK, Zimmerman said, but “what are the other options?”
Dimcheff froze for a minute, thinking, then glanced across the patient’s bed to where the two residents, Pooja Modi and Ahmed Ali, were making a hand gesture that looked like pulling a thread from a piece of fabric.
Dimcheff hesitated until the gestures made sense.
“We could get a sample with a fine needle aspiration and determine what bacteria is causing the infection,” he said. “That would help us tailor our antibiotic treatments.”
Yes, Zimmerman said, “and it would also help us ascertain whether or not [the pancreas] is actually infected.”
Moje noted later that her student teachers at Cody didn’t have residents to turn to if they were struggling. They were “working independently and not having the kind of support that [Zimmerman’s] team has,” Moje said. “His fourth-year med student, David, always has somebody more senior to him and our students don’t.”
Moje believes her teaching school can change that. She’s designing the school so that as resident teachers improve, they’ll help train teachers coming up behind them. They’ll attend classes and workshops that could be held in the school building. And they’ll participate in meetings similar to what hospitals call “grand rounds,” where doctors, residents, and medical students gather to discuss the conditions of patients and the best courses of treatment.
“One day you might be in a classroom with a student teacher and an attending, and a [university] field instructor might also be present, and a faculty member would show up, especially if we’re teaching classes there,” Moje said. “The next day, you might be in the exact same classroom and the student teacher is in a different classroom, but the attending is there.”
The new model will simplify a lot of things for the university’s school of education, which last year had student teachers working in 356 classrooms scattered around southeastern Michigan, Moje said: “The advantage of the teaching school is that they’ll be in one location so we’ll be able to concentrate a lot more of our time and attention on these interns. That’s also why we can continue to support the residents, because they’ll all be in one place.”
When interns first start out, they’ll rotate to different teachers’ classrooms and slowly take on more responsibility. After three years on staff in the teaching school, residents will leave as fourth-year teachers who have been trained to weather the intensive challenges of teaching in urban schools.
The new teaching school could be a tough sell for some parents who might fear that the new model is too experimental or that educating their children would take a back seat to the demands of training teachers. But Moje said children will get a lot more attention in this school than they would in a typical school. And she believes children will benefit from efficiencies like those created in the hospital when doctors and med students work together.
Murray, the English teacher at Detroit’s Munger Elementary-Middle School, was intrigued by the idea of teachers getting more support in their first years. She fondly remembers the support she had from her college professors and liked the idea of formal support continuing into a teacher’s first years.
“Teaching is one of those careers that no one can ever really prepare you for,” she said. But once you’re in a school, doing the work, “to be able to have all these connections, all these professors, and all the people I had the support from in college … that could be really powerful.”