September 14, 2011 — As at other colleges, University of Virginia students preparing to become teachers complete a semester of student-teaching in a nearby K-12 classroom.
Some students, however, travel much farther. For those wanting to be immersed in a totally different culture, U.Va.'s Curry School of Education now offers several student-teaching experiences that take place far from the Grounds.
"These students have a desire to ultimately teach in a school that is composed of students very different from those in Charlottesville and Albemarle," Sandi Cohen, director of Curry's teacher education program, said.
Three such programs take Curry students to Texas, Washington, D.C., or the United Kingdom. YES Prep in Houston and DC Prep in the nation's capital are both networks of charter schools. Students can also teach in Cambridge, England primary schools.
At YES Prep, Curry students are able to engage with a large Hispanic population and students at risk for not graduating from high school or continuing on to college.
Carlos Villagrana, manager of teaching excellence at YES Prep, said the schools' mission is to prepare low-income Houstonians to not only graduate from a four-year college, but also to commit to improving disadvantaged communities. "We believe that we can truly transform Houston if we provide a transformative education for all of our students," he said.
This fall, Curry sent its second group of student-teachers to YES Prep. The four, who had to apply and be interviewed by YES Prep administrators, moved to Houston in July to join first-time teachers in a rigorous training program.
"While many schools in Charlottesville work actively to close the achievement gap and provide equal opportunities for high-potential, high-risk students, that mission operates quite differently halfway across the country," said Emily Skiba, a Curry student currently student teaching at YES Prep. "Because YES commits itself to Houston and maintains a local focus, I am able to learn the specifics on what's working here and, ideally, take that knowledge with me wherever I go next."
Cohen said the intensive support system makes YES Prep a great opportunity for Curry students. "They offer a continuum of training for their teachers and our student teachers get to take part in that," she said.
While integrated into the training designed for novice teachers, student-teachers work alongside licensed, experienced teachers who provide daily mentoring.
Villagrana said, "Our U.Va. urban education interns have the support of instructional coaches who individualize training to ensure that they develop quickly and that their students are able to be immediately successful."
Two Curry students who did their student-teaching there last fall are now teaching full time in YES Prep.
Dillon Hauptfuhrer and Kate Dibble graduated from the Curry School in May. Dillon Hauptfuhrer is teaching sixth grade, and Dibble is a ninth-grade world geography and reading intervention teacher.
While YES Prep provides strong teacher supports, Curry continues to be the primary observer and instructor of its students. Each student at a remote student-teaching location receives significant support from the Curry School.
"We only chose long-distance locations that were compatible with our requirement to guide their experience," Cohen said. "They are our responsibility and we are actively involved in their learning and growth as a student-teacher."
Students in the long-distance programs participate via Skype and other distance technologies in a Curry seminar required of all student-teachers.
This is the first year that Curry student-teachers are at DC Prep. Cohen plans to visit with the students and observe them in their classrooms. In addition, they receive distance supervision through Curry's Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS, observation system and the MyTeachingPartner, or MTP, framework for supervisory conversations.
Both the CLASS and MTP tools were created at the Curry School’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning. Student-teachers are videotaped and receive assessment and feedback on their classroom effectiveness.
Eleanor Wilson, associate professor at Curry, directs the Cambridge program. For the past three years, students have traveled abroad to teach in English primary schools after completing seven weeks of full-time student-teaching in the Charlottesville area. While in Cambridge, students are affiliated with Hummerton College and work both with Wilson and a Cambridge faculty member to learn as much as they can about the British primary education system.
"Observing and teaching in such a different cultural environment has changed how I see myself as a teacher and has pushed me to develop skills and understandings that will serve me in any classroom I am in," said Emily Walden, who participated in the fall 2010 program.
The Curry School will continue to seek teacher preparation opportunities for students wanting a different cultural experience than what is available locally, according to Cohen.
"When students reveal to us a need, they have to expand their learning experiences and we have the capacity to come alongside them with opportunities to meet those needs, we will do it," Cohen said.