Ohio’s educators have been nervously watching the development of a new way to evaluate teachers.
They’re nervous because half of their evaluations will be based on student test scores. Officials hope the higher stakes will improve teaching performance.
But there could be ripple effects, like big changes in the way student teachers get classroom experience.
The new teacher evaluations kick in next fall.
“When that goes into place I will not give up my classroom for a student teacher,” says Barb Sole, an eighth grade language arts teacher at Utica Jr High School in rural central Ohio.
Sole has a student teacher now. It’s the third she’s worked with, and she says probably her last.
“Mostly because my job will be evaluated and my students’ progress will determine how I get paid and evaluated and I’m not going to leave that to somebody who’s in college and just learning how to do it,” Sole says. “I don’t want to risk it.”
Student teaching gigs vary, but they usually last about eight to 12 weeks. Student teachers spend the first and last few weeks shadowing veteran teachers. But for several weeks in the middle student teachers usually have the class all to themselves, with veteran teachers checking in on them occasionally.
Kelsey Berryman is Ms. Sole’s student teacher. The Mount Vernon Nazarene University senior has only been there for a few weeks, but students say she’s already proven helpful.
“She helps us with when we’re having trouble with work and she explains stuff really well,” says student Jenna Smith.
Berryman likes student teaching. In fact, she wishes she had more time to spend time in the classroom before graduating in May. Still, she says, she gets where teachers like Ms. Sole are coming from.
“I’m very blessed to be student teaching now than if that were to go into effect,” Berryman says. ”I can totally understand the teachers and their thoughts on it.”
The schools’ principal, Ryan McClane says several of his teachers have told him the same thing – once the new evaluations go into place they won’t take on student teachers.
“It’s not realistic for teachers to volunteer for someone to take their class for 7 or 8 weeks anymore the way it’s normally been done,” McClane says.
His school used to welcome several student teachers a year, usually from Mount Vernon Nazarene or Ohio State University’s campus nearby. But, he’s already told his contacts at both schools what his teachers are saying.
But concerns around the quality of student teaching are not new.
“That was a concern even before the OTES [Ohio Teacher Evaluation Standard] tests,” says Debbie Shepherd-Gregg. She oversees the student teachers at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
“It was a concern that their students wouldn’t get the best instruction possible with student teachers,” she says. “It’s just now pronounced because now it’s for an evaluation and eventually for their salary.”Shepherd-Gregg says she’s been hearing the same thing from other schools, and she’s been having a tougher time finding schools to place her student teachers for this reason.
But she says this isn’t the end of student teaching. Just perhaps the end of student teaching as we know it.
“We’re just reassuring them,” Shepherd says. “We’re not taking the keys to their classroom away and want them to leave for 12 weeks. That we want them to be involved with the students as well as with our candidates.”
Shepherd-Gregg says many are moving towards a co-teaching model where the veteran teacher never leaves the classroom or cedes control of it to the student teacher.
State education officials say that’s not a bad idea.
“The idea is that the student teacher is learning how to do a good job because the teacher is modeling for them good practices and things of that nature,” says John Charlton with the Ohio Department of Education.
“Obviously the students are first and therefore if a student teacher is not doing a good job of educating the students then it’s the job of the teacher to step in and say ‘hey we need to make sure we’re doing this better we need to make sure we’re educating the students the way they need to be educated.’”
Charlton says if veteran teachers do their job well, student test scores shouldn’t go down, even if they take on student teachers.
“There’s no replacement for actually getting the experience of being in there by yourself and handling the situations you never had any thought about happening in that classroom,” says McClane McClane – the principal at Utica Jr. High. “But it’s better than nothing.”
McClane hopes he’ll have more success convincing his teachers to take on student teachers as long – as they get to maintain control.
Barb Sole says if that’s the case, she may be looking at more student teachers in the future after all.