Nashville Student Teachers Earn, Learn, Support Teacher-Leaders

by | December 16, 2014

Better-prepared new teachers, more adults in every classroom, more small-group instruction, more adults caring for every student—how can a school wrap all that up in one package? Three Metropolitan Nashville Opportunity Culture® schools are trying a novel approach with paid, yearlong student teaching positions. In a new case study, Public Impact® examines this “aspiring teachers” program and its early implementation.

In 2013–14, the two elementary schools and a middle school, part of Nashville’s Innovation Zone created to help high-need, low-performing schools, combined the aspiring teachers program with the Opportunity Culture® Multi-Classroom Leadership model. Multi-Classroom Leadership extends the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget. A multi-classroom leader, or MCL, leads a team of teachers while continuing to teach, helping the team teachers develop and excel through extensive co-planning, co-teaching, and feedback on the job. MCLs take accountability for the learning of all students in their “pods,” and delegate responsibilities to teachers and paraprofessionals that make the best use of everyone’s time.

How has the program, which pays student teachers nearly $15,800 and benefits—in a position that is usually unpaid—affected all the teachers on these teams? Aspiring teachers say they will enter their first teaching jobs, especially in high-need schools, much better prepared. Team teachers and MCLs working alongside them appreciate the assistance in the classroom and the quiet pressure to “up their game” even more. While MCLs are formally accountable for the whole team’s outcomes, team teachers mentor the aspiring teachers, too, forcing them to think about the effectiveness of their own teaching methods.

“If an aspiring teacher is trying to learn from me, I want to always be doing my best instruction. I don’t want to let them down,” a third-grade team teacher said.

Aspiring teachers quickly saw the value of committing to a full year.

“Honestly, there’s no way if I just student-taught I’d be ready for a classroom right away,” said one fourth-grade aspiring teacher.

At the district level, recruiting focused on students in master’s degree programs, who were attracted to the pay and strong training they could receive.

“I thought this was a great opportunity,” said a third-grade aspiring teacher. “I’m 29 and was worried about having to do unpaid student teaching.”

Schools fund the aspiring teacher positions from their regular budgets, using aspiring teachers to replace vacant teaching or other staff positions within each school, resulting in overall savings that also fund higher pay for MCLs.

Schools hired their aspiring teachers from the pool of the most promising applicants selected by the district, working to pair team and aspiring teachers carefully.

Although the program provided significant benefits in many classrooms, others faced challenges, especially in time management. Read more about the challenges in the first year of the program, the district’s plans to address those challenges, and considerations for expansion in Metropolitan Nashville’s Innovation Zone: High-Need Schools Help Teacher-Leaders with Paid, Yearlong Student Teachers.

For more on the Nashville Opportunity Culture® schools, watch new videos of their multi-classroom leaders, principals, and team teachers.

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