Grant partnership between UAB and Jefferson County creating better teachers

UAB teachers are learning new educational standards.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) senior education major Kenslea Ray and veteran Clay-Chalkville High School English teacher Carrie Beth Buchanan seem engaged in a dance of sorts.

Inside a ninth-grade classroom, Buchanan steps to the front of the class and gives instructions on writing an essay. Moments later Ray seamlessly glides toward her, swaps places and picks up where Buchanan leaves off.

Ray, a 21-year-old from Hueytown, is getting firsthand experience in what it’s like to be a teacher — a lesson on what to do in front of the class, as well as what is needed behind the scenes. She is one of 13 UAB students participating in a first-of-its-kind grant partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Jefferson County Schools and UAB.

For Teachers, By Teachers is a $150,000 innovation grant awarded by the AFT. The mission is to bring together veteran and pre-service teachers to exchange ideas, mentor one another and create lessons that are in line with new College and Career Readiness Standards that will be implemented across the country during the 2013-14 school year. These standards represent a significant shift in how English language arts will be taught.

Lessons will emphasize more non-fiction, says Tonya Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the UAB School of Education and university partner for the grant. Students will be expected to draft fewer narrative essays, concentrating instead on persuasive pieces with a focus on short text that relies on multiple external sources.

For Teachers, By Teachers affords a team of 20 Jefferson County teachers the opportunity to create a writing curriculum that incorporates the standards. Together, veteran and pre-service teachers test the effectiveness of the newly written lessons in the classroom.

“Since we have become a data-rich society, we have to teach our students how to access that data and determine whether it is true, opinion or fact,” Perry said.

For Teachers, By Teachers affords a team of 20 Jefferson County teachers the opportunity to create a writing curriculum that incorporates the standards. Together, veteran and pre-service teachers test the effectiveness of the newly written lessons in the classroom.

“It’s a win-win,” Perry says. “The curriculum development team and the practicing teachers get to discuss what makes a more teachable lesson. Ordinarily, it would take years for something like that to happen.”

Ray, who started the school year observing Buchanan and now instructs alongside her, recognizes the value of her experience.

“The opportunity to actually teach now has been the biggest blessing,” she says. “It has prepared and challenged me in ways that I didn’t even think were possible.”

Buchanan, who shares her lesson plans, emails Ray with new information and offers her resources that traditional student teachers would not have, appreciates the rare opportunity afforded by the program.

“We do everything together — teach together, create lessons together,” Buchanan says. “It’s a real hands-on, collaborative approach that I don’t think has been done before.”

Some students have access to multiple teachers through the program.

UAB graduate student Laura Ashley Missildine works with a first-year teacher as well as a 25-year teaching veteran at Clay-Chalkville Middle School and has acquired a rich trove of resources she plans to use, she says.

“From the first-year teacher, I am learning what I can expect in my first classroom, and the experienced teacher tells me what I can expect as I move on,” Missildine says. “Now I know I can walk into a classroom tomorrow and be ready.”

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