From student to teacher: Co-teach model gives education majors real-world experience

Leander senior Colby Shoults has enjoyed the opportunity of co-teaching through Baylor. Photo courtesy of Colby Shoults

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

Seniors in Baylor’s School of Education are accustomed to early alarm clocks — but not for 8 am classes. Monday through Thursday for 15 weeks each semester, these interns swap out their ‘student’ hat for a ‘teacher’ one, entering real-life classrooms, assuming full-time hours and embracing the co-teach model alongside their mentors.

According to Dr. Krystal Goree, director of the Office of Professional Practice, the School of Education adopted the co-teach model nine years ago. She said doing so was “one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

“I love the way it came about because it was not at all a top-down decision,” Goree said. “Administrators in our public schools, some of our Baylor faculty and even a few of our Baylor candidates attended the National Association for Professional Development Schools conference nine years ago. At the conference, there were several presentations on co-teaching, and many of them were attended by representatives from our Baylor partnerships. When we got ready to head back home, we were all sitting in the airport and getting our things together, and all everybody could talk about was co-teaching and how they wanted our partnership to look into it for our program.”

Goree said the School of Education is using the co-teach model developed by St. Cloud State University. According to the Academy for Co-Teaching and Collaboration’s website, this particular model involves “two teachers working together with groups of students and sharing the planning, organization, delivery and assessment of instruction and physical space.”

“We found the research to be very conclusive in proving that co-teaching for training pre-service teachers enhanced the achievement of the students in the classroom, as well as the preparation of pre-service teachers, in such a positive way,” Goree said. “In fact, what research showed was that when you look at student achievement, the student achievement with co-teaching in place — a pre-service teacher and a practicing teacher using co-teaching strategies to instruct children — learning for both children and the pre-service teacher was higher than just having the teacher or a pre-service teacher with no co-teaching practice in the classroom.”

To lay the groundwork for the co-teach model at Baylor, Goree said the School of Education enlisted the help of Dr. Teresa Heck, executive director of the Center for Co-Teaching and Educational Engagement. Goree said Heck trained 40 Baylor faculty members and teachers from partnership school districts. Then, those individuals were qualified to train the interns and mentors.

“It’s all about building relationships, how to handle difficult situations of communication, all the things that make working together difficult, so that they’d have the skills and strategies to make it through times that might be a little challenging,” Goree said.

According to Baylor’s website, the School of Education works with nine professional development schools in Midway ISD and Waco ISD, and it has other partnerships with Connally ISD and Robinson ISD. Goree said “hours and hours and many prayers” go into her decision of where she places an intern and which mentor she pairs them with.

“We base the placements No. 1 on the needs of our students,” Goree said. “We receive feedback from the students about what they feel like they need in a mentor teacher — for example, a lot of support, not a lot of support, daily help with planning, ‘I prefer to be more creative and plan on my own and then get feedback.’ I really try to match strengths and weaknesses and, to a degree, personalities.”

Goree said she tries to make sure interns receive an experience that is distinct from the one they had during their semester as teaching associates, so she tries to vary the grade levels and whether it is an urban or suburban setting. She said this variation makes Baylor students very valuable in the job market.

“Every year, I get calls from superintendents all over Texas and even outside of Texas that say, ‘Do you have any graduates that haven’t been hired yet? Are any of them interested in coming to the Dallas area or the San Antonio area?’” Goree said. “They know that they’ve had a lot of valuable experience as pre-service teachers.”

Throughout the year, Goree said interns and mentors practice seven co-teaching strategies: one teach, one observe; one teach, one assist; teaching stations; parallel teaching; supplemental teaching; alternative teaching; and team teaching. She said this hands-on experience is so important because “there’s nothing like being in a classroom with children, with a mentor teacher who models quality instruction.”

“You can read about that in a book, but there’s nothing like standing in the rain and putting the children on the buses,” Goree said. “There’s nothing like helping a child who is struggling with reading and being able to use strategies to see them learn and grow with your own heart and eyes. That’s why I think the clinical aspect is so very important. They’re challenged, and they have to figure out what to do, just like they’re going to when they’re a real teacher.”

Brittany Rollins, a mentor in the program, is a Baylor graduate who teaches eighth grade math at Midway Middle School. She said Baylor’s internship is distinct from other student teaching experiences because of the extent to which it prepares them for the field.

“Coming in after a year of Baylor internship, it’s almost like your second year teaching because you’ve been there a year, you’ve seen the start of the year,” Rollins said. “Day one — that’s hard. What do I do to set the standards, set the rules, set the expectations in my classroom? So I think it’s so powerful for them to be here on that day. It’s so much more than what a lot of people think of when they think of student teaching.”

Leander senior Colby Shoults, an intern in the program, is currently paired with Rollins. She said her biggest challenge has been finding balance.

“Having a full-time job but still being part of Baylor is a weird thing to figure out — so just balancing school, which is really work, with my actual job outside of that and also with taking care of myself as a student and person ,” Shoults said. “It’s just a lot to balance and a lot to jump into.”

However, Shoults said the hands-on nature of the co-teach model has helped her learn how to be confident in front of a classroom.

“It was something I struggled with during [my semester as a teaching associate] and even sometimes during the first semester of internship,” Shoults said. “I’ve learned how to be more confident in front of a classroom so that I can build those relationships with the entire class and be ready for questions that they have or leading different types of lessons that are out of my comfort zone.”

Ultimately, Shoults said her biggest piece of advice for Baylor students who are going into their internship is to go all-in when they enter the classroom on day one.

“Be ready to jump in day one, 100%,” Shoults said. “That first day, you decide how you’re going to be perceived in a classroom — if you’re going to be the assistant or if you’re going to actually be a teacher. Even if it’s faking your confidence, be ready to do it, because the students will respond to that.”

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