Corinne McGuigan had an unusual opportunity a few years ago to completely re-imagine what teacher-training ought to be like.
McGuigan, a Heritage University educator with 35 years of experience in the field, was helping her university apply for a U.S. Department of Education grant when she came up with a novel type of residency program to change the way student-teachers were prepared for the classroom. Heritage won the grant, and the private, non-profit university in Toppenish began rolling it out in 2010.
The program flips teacher education on its head in all kinds of ways. Undergraduates spend two years in elementary and middle school classrooms; the norm is about 14 weeks. They work in three-person teams with a master teacher. They follow the school calendar, not the university calendar. They learn all of their subject material from school instructional leaders; for example, their math instruction might come from the district’s top math curriculum instructor.
Teachers-in-training spend four days a week in the class, and on the fifth day have a seminar to talk about the content being taught in the classroom. “Their ability to do assessment well, to do daily data well, to find strategies that work for kids — this all comes together so well,” McGuigan said.
The program, called HU105, is so well-regarded that school districts clamor to have its students in their classrooms. Nearly all of the 2012-13 graduates are working as teachers, McGuigan said.
The program not only turns out well-prepared teachers, McGuigan said, it has a powerful learning effect on the elementary and middle school students in the teacher-training classrooms. The students are usually assigned to classrooms where the academic need is greatest, and by the end of the year, those students often exceed grade-level expectations, she said.
Through the program, the teacher candidates receive an English Language Learner endorsement on their teaching certificate, and can also earn an endorsement to teach special education. The program also offers a master’s degree, which students earn while working in a K-12 classroom for three semesters.
The program, which is a joint project with Educational Service District 105 in Yakima, will expand this fall into the Richland School District. This year, 88 Heritage students are enrolled; next year, the program will expand to 120.
Heritage has an undergraduate enrollment of about 870 students. It’s located on the Yakama Indian Reservation, and it has one of the most diverse student enrollments of any four-year college in the state; more than half of its students are Hispanic/Latino, and 10 percent are American Indian or Alaska Native.