Dordt College News

Getting a head start in the profession

March 14, 2014

Dordt’s education department is helping the state of Iowa decide whether to promote a yearlong Professional Development School (PDS) model of teacher education as a preferred way to educate future teachers in Iowa’s classrooms. In a PDS program, senior education majors spend their fourth year in classrooms, co-teaching with experienced educators.

The state of Iowa has awarded Dordt College a $310,000 grant to implement, evaluate, and make recommendations to the Department of Education about whether yearlong PDS programs work.

“The students who have been in our PDS program have been among the first to be offered contracts,” says Dr. Pat Kornelis, the director of Dordt’s program. Assessment results show that students in classrooms with an intern score better in reading and mathematics, in part because there are two teachers to help meet the needs of individual students.

Dordt’s education program has already been working with the PDS model on a small scale for the past four years (learn more at

“This grant allows us to move ahead with our PDS more quickly than we had expected,” says Kornelis, who will devote 75 percent of her time to expanding and coordinating the program next year. The grant will increase the number of students in the program from a handful to 15. It will cover Kornelis’s salary, fund scholarships for students in the program, pay for training for teacher/mentors, and finance attendance at PDS conferences for Dordt student interns, education faculty, and teacher/mentors.

Significantly expanding the program will take coordination and time. For next year, the department also needs to find 15 collaborating teachers who are willing take on the additional work involved in any new effort; they’ll also have to be trained. A stipend will give teachers an incentive to get involved next year, but it will also benefit them and the program as they work with future interns.

PDS interns will join a couple of classes on campus during their senior year, but their methods courses will be offered on site at the schools where they are teaching. Dordt professors and teacher/mentors will co-teach these classes to better blend theory and practice.

“We’ll still be covering the big topics in these courses, but do so in a way that connects to classroom experiences,” says Kornelis. “Rather than using case studies that pose hypothetical situations, we’ll be able to focus on real students and real learning contexts.

“We’ve been working for years to strengthen our partnership with practicing teachers,” says Kornelis. The PDS program has been making that happen, and the department is getting positive response to the process from leadership teams at the schools in which they’ve been working collaboratively. The grant is moving that along more rapidly.

“Teaching is a profession in which you are expected to do basically the same things as a first-year teacher that you are as 20-year veteran,” says Kornelis. Teachers are on their own the first day of their first job, whether they’ve had lots of experience or none. “That’s why we believe that the yearlong experience, where interns will be mentored, is so valuable–it will better prepare them to take on the challenges of the first year of teaching.”

Response from Dordt education majors has been strong. Students must apply to and be accepted into a program that demands more time and work. Despite that, the department received more applicants for the 15 intern spots than they could accommodate.

Kornelis is excited about the future teachers that will be entering classrooms in the years to come. From what she’s already experienced, she’s convinced that they’ll be better prepared and that the students they work with as interns will have learned more because there were co-teachers in their classrooms.

Working collaboratively will also keep Dordt’s education program more alert to the needs of schools and able to walk alongside them to find good solutions to those needs.

“We realize that we may need to make some exceptions as we try to roll this out for our entire program,” Kornelis says, but she says it’s going to happen. The state of Maryland has endorsed the PDS model for their redesign of teacher education, and Iowa is exploring it. Dordt education professors are already convinced that a PDS makes a difference. This year will help them demonstrate that concretely.


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