Dordt College News

Graduating teachers

May 22, 2012

PDS Interns Have a Leg Up

Professional Development Schools (PDS) are the future of teacher education, many educators believe.

The Dordt College teacher education program is one of a small but growing number of programs that is embracing this model as a way to prepare future teachers. The PDS weds theory and practice; it helps professional teachers grow; it offers opportunities for co-teaching; and it improves K-12 learning.

“The experience is so much more rich,” says veteran teacher and mentor Taryn Van’t Hul of Rock Valley Christian School. When asked about the impact it’s had on her classroom, she says, “It’s been big.” The PDS internship not only gave her Dordt intern, Kati Marsh, nearly the equivalent of a year of teaching before she graduates, but it’s been a tremendous benefit to Van’t Hul and her students.

Rock Valley Christian School Principal Brad Vis describes the partnership between his school and Dordt’s PDS as a “huge blessing.” Besides giving student interns an opportunity to get more classroom experience before they lead their own classrooms, the school has been able to meet more needs of more children; they’ve been better able to keep up to date on new educational ideas, strategies, and technologies; they’ve had help with extracurricular programs and events. The only slightly rocky spots have been the occasional scheduling conflicts between college and elementary school calendars. And the only people with negative feelings may be the substitute teachers who get called less frequently because there are two teachers in several classrooms who help cover for others.

“I am extremely glad that I took advantage of this opportunity,” says Brian Verwolf of Jenison, Michigan. “I feel like I’m already a teacher.”One PDS intern gaining valuable classroom experience

Kati Marsh of Chino, California, echoes Verwolf’s comment and says, “This program has added to my workload but it’s been worth it. I was able to take what I was doing in the classroom into my college courses and apply what I know. It made my college learning more relevant and practical.” Marsh spent 260 hours in the classroom just during the first semester, in contrast to about 60 that she would have spent with the traditional student teaching model.

Dr. Patricia Kornelis leads the three-year PDS pilot program in which student interns have been placed at Rock Valley Christian School. Next year, Dordt College education interns will teach not only at Rock Valley Christian but also at Sioux Center Christian School, Sioux Center Middle School, and a new preschool run by Dordt College.

In the PDS model, education students spend a whole year in a classroom instead of a semester in one or two classrooms. All PDS interns begin the year with their students. As co-teachers, they’re there for opening day as well as for pre-service meetings; they prepare bulletin boards and participate in parent-teacher conferences; sometimes they even coach and lead chapel.

“My students will say that they have two teachers,” says Van’t Hul, who teaches first grade. The relationships that grow and the resulting effects on both student and intern learning are significant.

“I think kids learn better when they know you well and know what to expect,” says Verwolf.

The way the mentor–intern teams work varies from one pair to the next. Kornelis considers how an intern and a teacher’s personality might mesh and then mentor/teachers interview student applicants to be as sure as they can that it can be a good working partnership. Marsh says she and Van’t Hul “clicked” from the start.

“I knew we were going to work well together, and it has been proven through the year,” she says. “We’ve almost learned to read each other’s minds and often finish each other’s sentences,” she adds. During the first semester when Marsh was in Van’t Hul’s classroom four mornings a week and taking a full load of courses at Dordt, she participated mainly as a paraprofessional. Although they spent a great deal of time talking about the lessons, Van’t Hul took the lead in developing the lessons they would both teach. Second semester Marsh has taken more of the lead. Throughout the year they’ve spent a considerable amount of time teaching collaboratively.

“It’s amazing what can happen with two teachers in the room,” says Van’t Hul. Teaching to individual students’ specific needs is great in theory; it’s even better when you have the time to make it work. Van’t Hul, who has a small class of only 12 this year, has found that both students who excel and those who struggle have benefitted from Marsh’s presence because there is always one teacher available to look out for and address individual needs that arise during a lesson.

Although they can do more for their students in this approach, it takes more of Van’t Hul’s time too. She must continually make time to talk with Marsh about things to consider and watch out for and ways to approach a lesson.

I have to take work home that I would otherwise do during breaks and PE and music time,” she says. “You both have to be dedicated to it to make it work, but it is worth it.”

Verwolf and his mentor Kristy Van Beek teach seventh-grade mathematics and science. They have alternated taking the lead in lesson planning and teaching.

“There were no set answers about how to do this, so it was a little difficult at the beginning,” says Verwolf. He and Van Beek met each morning before school, during breaks, and during prep periods to plan their strategy. Like Marsh, Verwolf did more assisting during the first semester and more lead teaching during the second semester.

“Linking theory and practice in a more concrete way has been so exciting,” says Kornelis. But like anything else that is worthwhile, there is a learning curve. It takes time to learn how to work collaboratively.

“Working collaboratively looks so good on paper, but old ways of doing things can easily take over,” she says: Teachers rely on professors to tell them how to proceed; interns rely on teachers to tell them what to do. “As professors we have some great ideas that don’t always translate into reality. It takes a lot of trust and vulnerability to communicate so that we can all get where we want to be,” says Kornelis.

Kornelis has thrown herself into the program, working closely with professionals at RVCS to build a program that serves everyone—Dordt students, RVCS teachers, RVCS students, and the Dordt College education program. Dordt education students are learning that some things don’t work as they thought they would or should, and in the process they’re getting experience that will put them a step ahead when they get their own classroom next year.

Teachers and schools are benefitting not only from extra hands in the classroom but also the results of the Action Research Projects interns do based on issues, concerns, or needs they find in their classroom. And even though there is no hard data outlining improved performance, everyone involved feels that the students at RVCS are thriving within the program.

“I would recommend this opportunity to every student teacher who is dedicated to their studies and their future students,” says Marsh. “The PDS program really gives insight into what the first year of teaching is like.”


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