Page 71 - American_Higher_Education_V4

Basic HTML Version

resume, transcripts and three letters of recommendation—for
the 60 possible slots. She became one of about 130 finalists,
selected for a day of interviews and other exercises, including
reading, writing and teaching a five-minute sample lesson.
She and 58 others—20 each for IUPUI and the University of
Indianapolis, and 19 for Purdue—made the final grade.
All started flat-out, with summer school courses. In some
of the career changers, some observers sensed a certain culture
shock—as the fellows became students again, and then as they
started working with this new and challenging generation of
students. “The demographics are obviously different,” said
Ed Kassig, a biology teacher whomentored fellows at the
Indianapolis Public Schools’ Broad Ripple High School, where
more than 80 percent of the students are African American,
and 60 percent qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches. As
children of the video-game age, all are visual learners, used
to immediate gratification, Kassig said. “Everything happens
quicker. Everybody—students and teachers—needs to be able
to adapt quickly to change.”
That is no problem for Cummings, whose year included
clinical work in 11 different schools, such as suburban
Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School, where half the students
are minorities, and half qualify for free and reduced-rate
lunches. For her, what took the most getting used to was “a lot
of little things,” like taking attendance on a computer.
Gradually, under the guidance of university faculty and
the experienced teachers carefully selected as their in-school
mentors, Cummings and the other fellows assumedmore and
more classroom responsibilities. By spring, they were teaching
most, if not all, of their mentors’ schedules.
All this while, the fellows were continuing their graduate
courses. “I knew this wasn’t going to be a 40-hour-a-week
program,” Cummings said. But the 12-hour days of school
followed by evening classes were “very hard.”The combination
added up to “a lot of work, more work than had been
anticipated,” said another of the fellows, Hwa Tsu, who had to
put aside his work on a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
Traci Schath, once an IBM engineer, said she learned to get
by on about four hours of sleep
a night. The demands frazzled
even TimDevlin, at 25 one of the
youngest fellows. “Every day at
9:30 (p.m.) I’mbarely keeping my
eyes open, because I’m so tired,”
he said.
Along the way, three of the
original 59 fellows dropped out.
“We feel OK about that, given
that in all three cases it was for
personal reasons,” Bond said.
For the remaining fellows, the
learning curve was steep, but they
scaled it quickly. “I think their
transition fromwhen they walked
into the programwas huge,” said
Kathi Walton, an instructional
coach who observed fellows at
Decatur High School in suburban
Indianapolis. “They showed great
development quickly.”
Kassig said the fellows he mentored stood out among the
two dozen or so student teachers he has had in his 36 years of
teaching, exceeding all three of what he sees as the profession’s
basic requirements: “If you’re going to teach, you have to have
something to say, and you have to care about kids, and you
have to have classroommanagement skills.”
Come spring, the fellows came under the added pressure
of looking for the jobs they pledged to do for three years in
exchange for their training and $30,000 stipends. Many are
anxious because, in the wake of state funding cuts, the news
from schools across Indiana is less about hiring than laying
teachers off. Bond is confident, and she pointed out that math
and science teachers are always “in huge demand,” and that
many schools delay hiring until summer, when they know
exactly what openings they have. “We don’t have any indication
at this point that these fellows are going to
have trouble finding jobs,” she said.
The fellows are at least assured that,
once on the job, they won’t be abandoned
to sink or swim as somany first-year
teachers are. The foundation has seen
to that by requiring their universities to
continue mentoring them for their three-
year classroom commitments. As they
firmup their different plans for doing
that, the universities are considering,
besides the expected one-on-one coaching
by school and university faculty, such
innovative add-ons as online discussions
and video critiques.
The fellows are achievers, accustomed to success—
academic and professional. In what will doubtless be a first for
many, they will be judged as teachers, in part, by the success
of others. Levine said their first measure will be their students’
scores on next spring’s state assessment tests, due for release
before the school year is out.
Longer term, he said, the fellows will be followed to see
Longer term, the
fellowship program
as a whole will be
evaluated on its
success in bringing
change to teaching
and teacher education.
When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels
learned about the Woodrow Wilson teaching
fellowships, he saw an opportunity “for real
improvement in our time.”
“The fellowship came at just the right time,” says Laura
Cummings, of Indianapolis. She credits the program for doing “a
great job of immersing us in schools from day one.”
Susan Thomson for CrossTalk