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Doubling down on teacher preparation

The University of South Dakota (USD) is thrilled to be a part of the Network for Excellence in Teaching (NExT), the Bush Foundation’s program to redesign teacher preparation programs in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Each of the 14 higher education universities that are part of NExT is approaching this challenge in a different way.

At USD, where I am the dean of education, we have decided to “double down” on our student teaching experience of one semester and create a full-year residency program for the majority of our teacher education candidates (the art and music education programs will remain on a semester student teaching program due to the extensive coursework that is required).  This residency program is designed to be an extension of our teacher preparation curriculum.  We will embed courses into the residency experience that will allow our students to gain insight into the theory while they are participating in the practice of teaching. 

The idea is that more time in our K-12 classrooms, under the tutelage of a strong K-12 classroom teacher, will improve our candidates’ effectiveness in their future classrooms. Through these experiences, they will have ample opportunity to practice their craft under the guidance of USD faculty and field-based mentors.  Clinical supervisors will provide the system of support that is critical as our teacher education candidates learn the fundamentals of classroom teaching. (To learn more about why co-teaching works, read a blog post by my colleague at USD, Cindy Nelson.)

In visiting with our teacher education candidates and mentor teachers in the field during our pilot program in 2011-12, the response to an extended clinical experience has been universally applauded.  The other public university teacher education programs in the state have indicated an interest in joining us on this journey. Currently, all are having discussions on their campuses about a full-year residency for their candidates, which USD will be initiating for our candidates in the fall of 2013. The other universities intend to begin their programs as early as 2014 and to have fully implemented these residencies in the 2015-16 academic year.

There is a saying that every storm begins with a drop of rain.  I think that drop of rain has fallen for teacher education programs in South Dakota.

Even though a full-year residency program will not guarantee that each of our graduates will be successful, it will certainly provide both the teacher preparation programs and the K-12 schools with a better view of our candidates and their capabilities as future classroom teachers.  In a profession that loses nearly half of its early candidates, we believe this new model will improve retention and effectiveness.  We are grateful to the Bush Foundation for providing the funding for this initiative that promises to have statewide implications in South Dakota.

Rick Melmer is the dean of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota. He has served as a K-12 teacher and administrator for 24 years, and as a state department administrator for five years.

Talk Back to Bush

What benefit do you see in implementing a full-year residency/co-teaching model? How is your community adapting to changing teacher preparation methods? We want to know what you think.

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