Pilot program gives college students teaching experience in St. Charles

A pilot program to ensure student teachers are spending more hours in the classroom prior to graduation and are capable of handling the pressures of the job is in full swing in St. Charles Parish.

St. Charles Parish Public Schools is one of five public school districts participating in Believe and Prepare, an initiative begun by the Louisiana Department of Education that will allow the school system to provide teacher training for Southeastern Louisiana University students.

With the aid of a $120,000 grant, the two entities have transformed the final year of traditional teacher preparation into a school-based apprenticeship that will integrate clinical practice and academic coursework.

After undergoing a selective process including meeting grade point average standards and passing all practical exams, the first crop of five student teacher candidates began their training this July and will continue with the school system throughout the school year.

Tresa Webre, assistant superintendent of administrative services at St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said the program first began in January due to a bequest included in the will of the late Paul Candies, former president and chief financial officer for Des Allemands-based Otto Candies LLC.

Using Candies’ funds, the school district set up a precursor to the apprentice program. When the Department of Education began the Believe and Prepare initiative, it fit perfectly into what the school system had already created.

“What we did was we developed a program where the students have to take their methods courses the semester before they student teach and we are part of their methods course,” she said.

The goal is for education students to forego their final year of coursework at Southeastern and spend it instead shadowing local teachers.

“They start it in the fall. They had to start with new teacher orientation even though they are not employed. They received the same training. We wanted them to start the school year when our teachers started the year so they would see how to set up classrooms and procedures,” Webre said.

Webre said the results have been positive.

“What we are hearing both from mentor and apprentice teachers is that they are learning so much and these students are willing to do what it takes to become effective educators,” she said.

The next step will see 10 more student teachers added in January. Webre said not only is the goal to provide student teachers a better grounding from which to start their career, but to also give the school system a chance to recruit more highly qualified faculty members.

“I think it has huge possibility to change not only how teachers come in prepared, but we are also using it for recruitment,” she said.

State Superintendent John White said the program is necessary to better fulfill the needs of both future educators and the schools where they will employ their craft.

“Aspiring educators need more time in schools teaching our kids, learning the craft through extensive practice and mentoring,” he said. “What’s more, graduates should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on student achievement before entering the classroom as professional educators.”

White said while state teacher education programs have gotten better in recent years, there is still room for improvement.

“At the same time, we can no longer tolerate shortages in critical math and science positions. And there is no reason we should train an educator for years only to wonder after the fact whether he or she is an effective teacher,” he said.

A recent study undertaken by the Louisiana Department of Education, which surveyed 6,000 educators, backed up the premise behind the Believe and Prepare initiative – that student teachers need more classroom hours before becoming effective educators.

“The implications of this survey are clear: teacher training programs and school systems must join together to identify the subjects and grades in which teachers will be needed in the future and to provide teacher candidates as much time in the classroom as possible before their first days on the job,” White said.

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