UW-Whitewater program puts education students in the classroom

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The bodies in the desks in a classroom at Marshall Middle School are bigger than most middle schoolers.

These are college students.

The teacher, Deb Bowditch, is an experienced teacher from Milton who is passing on her insights to a new generation of future teachers.

Remember your favorite teacher, she said in a recent class, and remember the teachers you didn't like. Try to be the teacher that kids love to come to school for.

Many kids these days come from broken homes or live in poverty, much more so than a generation ago, Bowditch said.

"We have to be that positive role model because inside these four walls, all those kids want is to feel safe and cared for," she said.

Bowditch could have said those words back on campus in Whitewater, but she is experimenting with a new way to teach teachers who are preparing to enter the classroom.

Bowditch has been with UW-Whitewater for eight years. She teaches a class in reading and writing methods that includes "field study," in which students spend the last part of the semester in classrooms. The following semester, they go on to do their formal student-teaching, in which they are paired with a teacher in a classroom.

Bowditch has restructured and relocated the class so that the students receive a lecture and then walk down the hall to a classroom, where theory becomes practice.

It all started with Bowditch's aspiring teachers.

"Semester after semester, they would come back and say, 'Oh, I wish we had had more time in the field,' " Bowditch said.

So more than a year ago, Bowditch proposed an experiment: make the field study a part of the course throughout the semester rather than in the last six or seven weeks. Her boss at UW-W supported her, and Bowditch collaborated with Marshall Middle School Principal Synthia Taylor on the details.

The first class under the new arrangement was in the fall. A new one has just started. The students seem enthused.

"I am absolutely stoked that I am here, that I'm going to get 16 weeks in a classroom versus six," said Jon Thompson of Oregon.

"I already feel this experience is going to prepare us so much more for student teaching," said Kelsey Hanson of Whitewater, who admits being "terrified" of facing her first class.

"We're going to be a lot more comfortable with our kids," said Amy Masterson of Footville.

Bowditch said she was impressed with the difference she saw in last fall's class.

"I saw an increase in confidence over past semesters just because we lived it and breathed it during that time," she said.

Bowditch said middle school can be intimidating in part because some of the students are as big as the new teachers. She believes the hands-on experience helps.

"The students were actually able to grow as teachers and apply their knowledge and now have more confidence as they go into teaching," Bowditch said.

Amanda Treviranus, who is now student-teaching in Lake Geneva, said she feels lucky to have taken the course at Marshall last fall.

"I think a lot of us were pretty nervous about the middle school in the beginning, but after a few class meetings many of us started to get excited about the students we would be working with. After a month or so, our nerves were completely gone, and our concerns turned to the content that was being taught."

Bowditch said Marshall teachers have been very welcoming. Last semester, the college students spent more hours in classrooms than they had to just because they wanted to, Bowditch said.

While the UW-W students get valuable classroom experience, Marshall Middle School benefits as well.

The teaching students are bolstering the district's emphasis on reading and math, said Assistant Principal Andre Bennett.

"It's giving us some extra bodies to do some one-on-one work with our students that we wouldn't have otherwise," Bennett said.

Bowditch came up with the idea on her own, but it fits with cutting-edge thinking in teacher education.

A panel of national experts last fall called for refocusing teacher education on the classroom.

The recommendation came from the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning, convened by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

The panel called for "making clinical practice the centerpiece of the curriculum and interweaving opportunities for teaching experience with academic content and professional courses."

The panel said the shift would require partnerships between universities and schools, making teacher education a shared responsibility.

UW-Whitewater continues to offer the same class under the old model as well as Bowditch's model, but that could change.

Bowditch said the revamped class could spread to other school districts in the area.

"I really think it might be a model that the university will end up using," she said.

Future teacher loved course

UW-Whitewater education student Amanda Treviranus, from Sun Prairie, took Deb Bowditch's innovative course at Marshall Middle School last fall. She offered these thoughts in an e-mail:

"Having the class right in the middle school helped us (students) to be seen as part of the Marshall community. Building community is a huge initiative at Marshall; they really have a great system there. (Principal Synthia) Taylor, (Assistant Principal Andre) Bennett, the staff and the students as a whole did everything they could to make us feel welcome.

"While at Marshall, I gained an idea of exactly how much work goes into being a successful educator. Lesson planning happens on the weekends. Papers and tests were graded each night. Not to mention plays, concerts, conferences and meetings to attend weekly. I am still amazed how teachers can balance all of the requirements of school and be parents as well. …

"I also gained a perspective of why teachers do it—because they love the kids. I can see how that happens. I was only with my students for 16 weeks, and I still wonder how they are progressing and what they are up to.

"I feel that Deb is on to something big here. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it."

Last updated: 4:21 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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