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Leaders for Learning

Partnership Builds Stronger Student Teachers

By Javacia Harris Bowser

For student teachers at local high schools, the first day may be the toughest of their young careers. They’re overwhelmed with nervousness as teenagers bring energy and attitude into the classroom. To make matters worse, most feel intimidated by the veteran teachers in charge of their classrooms.

Kenslea Ray, on the other hand, began the fall semester with confidence and ease when she started student teaching at Clay-Chalkville High School. For that, the UAB senior education major can thank For Teachers By Teachers, a unique mentoring and curriculum-development partnership involving UAB’s School of Education, Jefferson County Schools, and the American Federation of Teachers.

In the program, UAB education students are paired with veteran teachers a year prior to their semester of student teaching. During this time, the UAB students not only observe and build a relationship with the teachers, but they become active participants in the classroom as well.

Last year Ray was paired with Carrie Beth Buchanan, who has taught English at Clay-Chalkville High School for seven years. This year Ray is back in Buchanan’s classroom to do her student teaching.

“I was here on the first day of school last year, and I got to do the first day of school this year as well,” Ray says. “I didn’t feel nervous and intimidated this year. I was more comfortable in the classroom environment, and I knew what to expect. And I knew Carrie Beth. We had built a relationship.”

Testing New Lessons

One goal of For Teachers By Teachers is to help develop future English teachers who are prepared to implement the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards adopted by the state in 2010. “The English Language Arts curriculum has increased in rigor with the implementation of the new standards,” says Tonya Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum instruction at UAB and the university partner for the program. “When practicing and prospective teachers work together to create lessons that meet the new standards, the students in the classrooms learn from all of the teachers, closing the instructional gap sometimes experienced between new and veteran teachers.”

Buchanan explains that with the new standards, also known as Common Core, “we focus on a wider range of texts. We’re not just reading one novel, but a novel paired with supplemental material such as poetry, songs, nonfiction, and news articles. We’re increasing the rigor and the relevance.” Students in the For Teachers By Teachers program learn these standards in their college courses and then have the opportunity to field-test lesson plans.

“It’s creating teachers with a level of preparedness that we haven’t seen in the past,” Buchanan says. “It has been great for Kenslea to see the process of developing a lesson. She knows all the work that goes into scaffolding that lesson to make sure, for example, that a student can complete and revise his or her first paper. Her experience with analysis and writing has been extremely valuable.”

0214 CCHSstudentteacher2UAB student teacher Kenslea Ray (left) spent parts of two school years working closely with veteran Clay-Chalkville English teacher Carrie Beth Buchanan (right), learning everything from classroom management skills to the fine points of Alabama's new English Language Arts curriculum.

Joining the School Community

In addition to the veteran teachers in the classroom, students like Ray also have support from UAB's Perry and Ann Foster, the project director of the For Teachers By Teachers program in Jefferson County Schools. Both agree that what separates the initiative from the traditional student teaching model is the time the students spend getting to know their mentors and schools before their semester of teaching.

“When I was in the classroom and had student teachers, most of the time I met them on the first day of their student teaching experience,” Foster says. “I had no clue where they had done their practicum hours, and I knew nothing about that person other than a bio and a tiny picture. We’ve tried to change that.”

Furthermore, Perry says, the student teachers become invested in the students and the school community. “They go to the football games, they go to the plays, and they help with homecoming,” Perry says. “They’re part of what’s going on.”

Ray says working with Buchanan has shown her the importance of putting students first. “She has taught me how to be a good listener and communicator to the student,” Ray says. “She has demonstrated how valuable it is to realize that each student is an individual, and we don’t know what that student is experiencing outside the classroom that might affect his or her schoolwork.”

Learning from Each Other

Ray says the For Teachers By Teachers program also has emphasized the importance of collaboration, something she’s learned in part from attending teacher team meetings at the school and by working with Buchanan to plan lessons.

That partnership is just what Susan Caraway, the English Language Arts supervisor for Jefferson County Schools, had in mind for the program. Collaboration, Caraway says, is essential to the successful implementation of the new English standards. “It makes everyone stronger, and UAB students are learning that from the beginning,” she says. “Also, the veteran teachers are learning from the student teachers with them in the classroom.”

Buchanan says she and Ray are a true team. “I love that I get exposure to Kenslea’s new ideas,” Buchanan says. “It keeps me from getting stale. We can combine her new ideas with my experience to create valuable lessons for these students.”

0114 TOY grizzleTalking Teaching

Since May 2013, when Alison Grizzle, Ed.D. (left), became Alabama Teacher of the Year, she has met with students, fellow teachers, colleges, chambers of commerce, and school officials statewide, speaking at events focusing on everything from leadership to curriculum standards. It’s a demanding schedule for the math teacher at Birmingham’s Jackson-Olin High School, who earned her master’s in education at UAB in 1999. But it’s worth it if she can help change the national conversation about education, Grizzle says.

“All students can learn, but we don’t always create avenues so that all students can be successful,” she adds. Learn how Grizzle and other Alabama Teacher of the Year winners from UAB are improving the state of education.

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