OXFORD, Miss. – A pilot program for aspiring middle and high school mathematics teachers at the University of Mississippi is raising the bar for a select group of education majors by expanding the scope of student teaching during senior year.
Designed to increase the intensity of field placements and responsibility taken on by student teachers, UM’s Secondary Mathematics Pilot, if successful, could pave the way for other undergraduate education programs at UM, potentially ensuring that all Ole Miss teacher candidates hit the job market with more field experience than graduates from any other institution in the region.
“What we’re trying to do is morph our program into something where our student teachers can be involved in their schools from day one,” said Allan Bellman, associate professor of mathematics education and the designer of the pilot. “There’s a huge difference when students are involved in that first back-to-school meeting of the year. They meet with the principals and hear the focus of the year. The faculty, the parents and the students all see them as part of the school, not just a student teacher.”
The pilot is a collaboration between the Oxford School District and the Ole Miss School of Education, Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders, and includes five seniors. Pilot participants are teaching at Oxford Middle School and Oxford High School.
In UM’s established secondary student teaching model, pre-service teachers ideally come into a classroom in late August and complete 40 hours of student teaching before winter break and return in late January to complete 14 weeks of full-time student teaching.
The math pilot requires an even broader commitment. In mid-August, its five pre-service teachers were placed in classrooms with licensed teachers even before classes began at UM. Throughout the public school district’s 18-week fall semester, each will teach a minimum of 15 hours per week, resulting in 270 hours of field experience.
This January, the student teachers will return from winter break two weeks early to begin teaching full time and each participant has committed to stay with their classrooms, even after degrees are conferred in May, until Oxford schools let out for summer.
“You build a lot of relationships with the students this way,” said Logan Dodson, a Birmingham, Ala., native who is student teaching geometry at OHS. “The students expect you to be here for the first three periods of the day. In six weeks, we’ve even seen that the averages are higher in the first three periods. It’s great to know you can actually have an impact on students.”
The program was designed to help the student teachers develop a rapport with their students and fine-tune classroom management skills. They will gain the knowledge that comes from experience and strong mentorship.
“Logan has made an easy transition into a real teaching role,” said Rebecca Mann, OHS geometry teacher and UM alumna. “When I was a student teacher 10 years ago, we didn’t get this depth of experience. When you came into school, there was already a routine in place. This is providing him with the experience that teachers normally get during their first year after college.”
With the pilot under way, the program’s organizers hope to attract more candidates for next year with the long-term goal of potentially expanding the model to other teacher education programs and bringing more prestige to the university’s education programs, Bellman said.
“These are students who have committed themselves to spending the year becoming the best teacher they can possibly be,” Bellman said. “As this grows, we’d like to do this for every teacher candidate that comes through our school. Long-term, the goal is for people to know that if they hire a brand new education graduate from Ole Miss, they’re hiring someone who already has the experience of a second- or even third-year teacher.”