Education program preparing teachers ahead of cutting edge

Release Date: 7/9/2012

Despite a tight job market and a slowed economy, recent University of the Ozarks teacher education graduates continue to be in high demand to fill teaching jobs.

Why is this so?

Depth of training and advanced preparation, says Ozarks' Education Division Chair Dr. Glenda Ezell. "The education field is always on the move, and we stay on the move with it," she said. "First of all, we have a course called 'current educational practices.' Whatever the new language is, whatever the current educational models are, we're teaching them the material ahead of time."

But Ozarks' dedication to keeping its education majors well informed goes far beyond a single course. Ezell said when she began teaching at U of O in 1999, the training emphasis was on each student learning a plethora of current theories of education, rather than the underlying core concepts. "In other words, if it's the 'Shirley' method, we want you to train them in the 'Shirley' method, and if it's 'Everyday Math,' or whatever, we want you to teach them 'Everyday Math,' or whatever," she said. "And I tried to explain to them that rather than training them the various theories, we train them in the foundations, and the methods that go along with them, so they can take that knowledge and use any prescriptive program they are faced with. We don't train in specific ones, because every school district uses something different."

Whitney Berg

Whitney Berg, a 2011 Ozarks graduate, recently finished her first year of teaching high school and junior high science for the Scranton (Ark.) School District.

Ezell realized what the administrators really wanted were teachers who had been trained to adopt new methods quickly. "These teachers already go through 60 hours a year of professional development as required by law," Ezell said. "So they end up learning all the new theories anyway. I thought there ought to be a happy medium regarding the new teachers having to learn every new concept. They want our teachers trained in all these various programs and we can't do that. But we need them to have a vocabulary so that when they do go out there they can carry on a conversation with these administrators. They can address subjects like Everyday Math, let's say, and know what they're talking about."

She explained that the state of Arkansas has now adopted the Charlotte Danielson educational model. "It's intense," she said. "Danielson's framework divides 22 teaching elements into four domains. The system requires the teacher advocate for himself or herself during assessments, bringing something to the evaluations more than simple test scores. For example, the teacher might bring a complete unit of study that includes a pre-test and post-test. They must show their actual impact on student learning all along the way."

She said although state schools are required to have the new evaluation system in place by 2014, the regulations teaching administrators how to evaluate teachers based on the new criteria have not yet been issued.

"Here's the thing about our new education graduates," Ezell said. "We already use Charlotte Danielson. When the state finally does get its regulations in place, our students will already understand them. When I found out the state was going to Charlotte Danielson, I said sign me up, I want to be a trainer. So rather than wait on transitioning into it, we started our students last year, saying this is coming down the pike. You are going to be evaluated based on this new model, so we want you to use it."

Ezell said during training sessions in the last year when she had been asked by a trainee administrator what a unit of study should look like under the new guidelines, or a research project, or what the evaluator's expectations should be, she had the trainees evaluate the work of her own students from U of O, to make them understand what a good example should look like. "So that's what administrators are using to train to evaluate their own people: The work of our students here at Ozarks," she said.

Ezell is quick to praise her own colleagues for their efforts in training. "I think we have wonderful people in the Education Division," she said, "We have the best faculty to work with from across campus. As soon as we knew schools were going to transition to this new system, faculty started coming in during their free time in the summer so we could get trained. We want all our students to be on the right sheet of music."

Part of having an excellent program is having students who are ready and willing to put in the work to be successful. "We do have excellent students, and it shows," Ezell said. "But we're tough, too. We had a couple of students years ago who came to us during their internships saying we were asking way too much of them. So we sat down and talked with them and emphasized how much they absolutely needed to process the material they were learning, and why. We know it's tough. Teaching is tough. But the training must be done. And last year we got emails from two of them saying, 'Thank you so much, because you were right, and we are so ahead of the other new teachers because we know how to put these lessons plans together.' So that was vindication."

Ezell says because of the quality of the people she works with and the students she teaches, it doesn't matter what the "next new thing" in education will be. "We're listening for it," she said. "Our ear is to the ground, and we are going to be out there so we can introduce it to our students. That way, when they are speaking with a new administrator applying for a teaching position, they can say, 'We had to do an impact on student learning project - would you like to see it? We knew it was going to become part of the new teacher evaluation system.' And they may even end up being the one who shows the others how it works. That's the kind of student we produce here."