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Innovative ways of educating future teachers

Dr. Nancy Mizelle works with middle grades education students at Oak Hill Middle School.

Six future teachers sit in desks of a local middle school classroom. It’s 3:45 p.m. on a Thursday. After a full day of student teaching, now they meet with their faculty mentor to go over their busy schedules leading up to graduation.

They recently submitted their edTPA, a performance-based, subject-specific assessment used by teacher preparation programs to emphasize, measure and support the skills and knowledge that all teachers need from day one in the classroom.

“It was challenging, but at the same time I felt so accomplished,” said Callie Reynolds, a senior middle grades major. “I feel so empowered to go into the classroom because of the experience I’ve had at Georgia College.”

She’s not alone. Others education students echo her feelings and acknowledge the benefits of Georgia College’s unique way of educating future teachers.

“Because of our program, I’ve been prepared so much more for classroom management—I know what works and what doesn’t work, “ said Marisa Cervasio, senior middle grades major. “I feel very prepared and am not worried to have a classroom of my own.”

The program is threefold—the mentor-led, field-based cohort model.

“There is no other program like this,” said Dr. Nancy Mizelle, middle grades program coordinator, “with the number of hours our students get in the field, students taking the majority of their courses together and them having faculty mentors to work with from start to finish of the two-year program.”

The trifecta’s foundational piece is the mentor-led cornerstone, meaning each cohort —or group of students who take most courses together during the program — has a faculty member assigned to them. Most are two-year programs except the Master of Arts in Teaching, which is one year.

“The mentor leader is key for students as they go through the program,” said Dr. Cynthia Alby, professor of secondary education. “Becoming a teacher is wildly stressful and for students the mentor is the one constant through their educational process. We know the big picture; we fulfill their emotional need for advice or guidance; and we can help tailor their educational experience because we know them each individually.”

Faculty mentor leaders not only guide students during the program, they serve as mentors throughout their career staying connected personally and through social media.

“If feel like the mentor is someone we can go to for help with our classwork, questions about being a teacher or even issues in our personal lives,” said Madison Daughtry, junior special education major. “I transferred to Georgia College because of the highly ranked programs here. When I came and interviewed with Dr. Wills, I knew this was my home.”

Just as pivotal to the program as mentor leaders is the experience the students gain in an actual classroom with K-12 students.

“Most universities have a field-based course where students work a certain number of hours in local schools,” said Dr. Stephen Wills, associate professor of special education. “We have field placements where students spend entire days with their host teachers from start to finish. For juniors it’s two days a week and for seniors it’s three. Their senior year, teacher candidates complete a yearlong internship beginning at pre-planning in their host school.”

Dr. Stephen Wills and students work in a special education classroom.

Immersing students in the teaching setting gives them the “full experience of what it’s like to be a teacher,” according to faculty.

“When they only spend a limited number of hours in a host school, they aren’t fully invested and don’t’ feel like they’re a part of the school,” said Wills. “Our students are fully invested.”

Students attend PTA or other meetings and complete professional development in their host schools alongside their partner teachers.

“Field placements allow students to experience things we can’t provide on campus,” said Dr. Lyndall Muschell, program coordinator of Early Childhood Education. “Being in school prepares them more effectively to deal with the real world of everything from  parent- teacher conferences to bomb threats or other emergency situations.”

Prime field placements and mentor leadership are only successful in small groups, so most cohorts range from 20 to 25 students.

“Our cohort takes all classes except one together. They form strong relationships, and they become a team that sticks together for years,” said Alby. “Cohorts develop into professional support groups. The students create social media groups and plan get-togethers for years after they graduate.”

As students graduate, Georgia College boasts a 99 percent pass rate on the edTPA, which is a new requirement for educators. Many universities across the nation had to rework their educator prep programs to fit the new requirement. Because of the mentor-led, field-based cohort model and the cohesive curriculum in each program, Georgia College already prepared students in many areas required for edTPA. 

“With the new challenge of edTPA, we were well-prepared for that,” said Muschell. “We did very little programmatic changes because we were already doing the kinds of things required.”

The benefits of this unique, well-rounded program are recognized by current teachers and principals as well as by the students themselves.

“It has been really helpful to have everything I need to be successful,” said junior special education major David Sloan. “I’m looking forward to next year in the program to prepare more for where I want to be after graduation. ”

“Our candidates are well-prepared. They are more like second year teachers during their first year because they are in the classroom so much as an undergraduate,” said Mizelle. “They also stay in the profession longer. We are proud of that.”

The John H. Lounsbury College of Education (COE) at Georgia College offers several award-winning undergraduate and graduate degrees. Instructional and school leaders gain valuable opportunities and benefit from the meaningful partnerships the university maintains with schools, districts and other institutions and agencies. The COE is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

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