Rita Mitchell, Huston-Tillotson University
Teacher candidates will eventually become the educators who are responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining educational environments that enable K-12 students to develop their potential to the fullest extent possible. The Teacher Education Program, therefore, is constantly seeking innovative and creative approaches in program field experiences to enhance the educational preparation of early childhood, elementary, middle school, and high school education majors.
Courses in the program are first outlined in a logical sequence that provides teacher candidates with a solid academic foundation in the philosophical, theoretical, and historical framework of the field of education. There should be a strong research base to not only allow students to actively participate in research conducted by professors but to help students develop appropriate skills to conduct research in their own classrooms. The faculty should encourage and the department should support student efforts to attend and present conference sessions at professional organization conference at the local, state, regional, national and international level.
The program should take into account current societal issues that will have an impact on the careers of the teacher candidates as they become practitioners. While the program cannot change every year, there should be workshops and seminars conducted each semester that focus on current issues. The program itself should conduct a local education conference to provide the opportunity for students to be involved in each aspect of the conference process-planning, proposal writing, attending sessions, presenting, and evaluating the process for subsequent conferences.
Students should have an active role in program development, maintenance, and change. There is an ongoing line of communication with program graduates who are working in public, private, and parochial schools, both in and out of state. The graduates provide a perspective on how successful various elements of the program have been in preparing students to become creative, effective, productive practitioners in education programs designed to address the unique academic needs and characteristics of school students.
The community is viewed as an extension of the university classroom and the K-12 classroom. This is the environment--the "real world"--in which K-12 students will utilize the concepts and skills introduced in the school classroom. The community offers numerous and varied sites with opportunities for teacher candidates to obtain a global perspective of teaching and learning. Whenever a community site provides programs for K-12 students, there is a need to have an individual who has an understanding of the growth and development of these students, and can design, implement, and maintain activities and programs that address their unique academic needs and characteristics. Community placement sites remain an untapped resource. When teacher candidates participate in alternative community placement site programs (children's museum, art museum, etc.) they learn innovative and creative methods, techniques, approaches and strategies for teaching. Teacher candidates have the opportunity to design lessons and units that are reality based and community oriented. Additionally, the placement sites themselves become a source of employment for the teacher candidates to consider.
While the majority of teacher candidates will remain in the K-12 classroom setting for the duration of their careers, there are some candidates that may desire to utilize their educational preparation in alternative community settings. For this reason, the teacher education program must establish and maintain collaborative efforts with community sites that provide programs for school students. Although state credentialing requirements are focused on field and lab experiences in the public school setting, innovative and creative strategies must be developed that provide flexibility and opportunities for teacher candidates to visit, observe, and volunteer in alternative community placement sites.
Benefits of Collaboration
The teacher education program (university) is a part of the larger community. When there are collaborative efforts between the university and the community, there are benefits for teacher candidates, K-12 students, the community, and the university. Collaboration between the teacher education program and community sites provides teacher candidates with a global perspective of teaching and learning. The experience enables teacher candidates to obtain current, accurate information directly from individuals from numerous geographic regions around the world. The community sites have programs representative of a wide range of art, customs, and traditions from around the world. Teacher candidates are exposed to and possibly involved with research and innovation in education. As these teacher candidates become practitioners, they are better able to design educational environments that promote and support the social, emotional, academic, and mental and physical growth and development of K-12 students. These students, in turn, obtain experience and skills of a natural and normal global awareness when encountering and interacting with people and growing to become contributing and productive members of the community and society. Community sites come to recognize the significance and the impact of the role they play in the teacher education program at the university. The College of Education and the university as a whole have another source to consider when planning field experience placements that "teach beyond the walls" of the traditional educational school classroom.
Global Perspective of Teaching and Learning
During the twenty-first century there has been a shift to a more global awareness and understanding of the human connection. One level of awareness has to do with the economic, social, and cultural impact that events around the world will have on our country, our children and their future; another has to do with the educational skills school students need to prepare for the future. At each educational level--from early childhood education to high school education--K-12 students are challenged to perform at the highest academic level. These students should have multiple exposures to those global issues they will assist in resolving as our future leaders. Each academic year K-12 students have an opportunity to begin a new and wonderful journey of learning, enabling them to develop their potential to the fullest extent possible. Their educational environment has to provide opportunities for the school students to explore, discover, and learn about their surroundings. Teachers, as the individuals who will be responsible for establishing and maintaining such educational environments, must have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience. Field experience provides teacher candidates with the opportunity to observe and participate in education programs that provide programs for certification areas in the College of Education. The traditional model of community collaboration in education involves public schools, parochial schools, private schools, and charter schools. This model of collaboration should include the utilization of alternative community placement sites as a supplemental source for providing a global perspective of teaching and learning.
Alternative Community Placement Sites
The range of alternative community placement sites will vary for each community. These are a few of the sites a very brief overview of the programs they are designed to provide:
Offers programs, events, exhibits and activities for children and their parents. This is an excellent placement for teacher candidates seeking early childhood and elementary education certification.
Consists of interactive exhibits that explore science concepts and skills. Scientists involved are conducting global issue research. The site is for middle school and high school science majors.
Focuses attention on the significant contributions made to the global society by individuals from a specific culture. All certification areas benefit from participation at these sites.
Analyzes the impact of events from the past and the present on society. Ideal for middle school and high school level history majors.
Exhibits and programs that explore the significance of art in our lives. This site is for art majors.
The Process of Community Collaboration
The collaborative process begins with an exploration and an awareness of the community:
- Identify community sites that provide programs for school age students in the certification areas offered by the College of Education.
- Establish contact with each community site to determine and discuss the interest for collaboration. Most sites have often been overlooked and under-utilized. There may be an interest in collaboration to provide a broader patronage base and provide exposure to the programs and exhibits the site has to offer, especially to those individuals who are preparing to become teachers.
- Determine the appropriate format for collaboration: 1.) the individual who will be the site coordinator for the community site; 2.) the individual who will be the coordinator for the university; 3.) how the hours for the students will be determined; 4.) procedures for teacher candidate participation in the community site programs 5.) whether teacher candidates will volunteer or complete service learning projects; or 6.) whether the teacher candidate will extend the required field experience hours voluntarily at an alternative placement site.
- Determine the criteria for including the community site on the university or College of Education Volunteer List. Many universities require students to complete 3-6 hours or more of community service as a part of the degree program.
- Provide course projects and assignments that utilize the community site. This provides the teacher candidates with an initial introduction to what each site has to offer and allow individual student interest to develop. Some community sites have speakers who will visit universities to present information about the community site (the programs and exhibits they offer and volunteer opportunities). Some community sites offer free nights or days to encourage communities to experience the programs and activities.
- Extend an invitation for a representative from various community sites to participate in the College of Education advisory committee and department-level committees. This provides another perspective of global awareness for both the university and the community. The community site representative begins to realize how the community site can enhance the educational preparation of the teacher candidates.
- University course visits to community sites allows faculty to guide the community site experience, with assistance from representatives of the community site program.
- Develop a Pilot Program. Analyze the results to determine how to most effectively maintain a collaborative effort between the university and the alternative community placement site.
- Provide a forum for teacher candidates who have participated in the alternative community placement sites for field experiences to discuss their experiences. This information allows other teacher candidates to consider the possibility for participation in the alternative placement site field experience.
Teacher candidates will eventually become the educators who are responsible for designing, implementing and maintaining educational environments that enable school students to develop their potential to the fullest extent possible. The Teacher Education Program must continue to explore innovative and creative strategies to enhance the educational experience of the teacher candidates. The traditional field experience model of community collaboration has to expand to include alternative community placement sites. The shift to a more global awareness in the twenty-first century requires that schools provide numerous and varied experiences at each academic level for K-12 students to explore those global issues they will assist in resolving as our future leaders. Collaborative efforts between the community sites and teacher education program will provide a global perspective of both teaching and learning to teacher candidates. Such collaborative efforts will be beneficial for these candidates, K-12 students, the community, and the university.