University of Vermont

Student Teaching Internships Prepare Students for Prime Time

Watch Lauren Prindeville in action with her first-grade students.

Six-year-old Julia Sides sits with her first grade classmates at the front of the classroom and listens intently as senior education major Lauren Prindiville calmly gives directions. “Should you be chatty when you go back to your seats to work?” she asks. “No!” respond the 15 students in unison. “Should you be writing words?” “Yes!” they yell enthusiastically.

After returning to her seat, Sides starts working on her assignment – a game called “read, write, flip, check” where she takes a quick glance at a word and then writes it. “You aren’t supposed to look at it very long or it’s cheating,” she says. She doesn’t and then proceeds to spell them correctly. “I’m pretty good. I usually get them right,” she says proudly. After a few moments of silence she shares that Prindiville’s last day is Friday. “I like her. I’m going to miss her.”

Prindiville, who plans to teach for a year in Seville, Spain and is also applying for jobs in her native New Jersey as well as Vermont, was also emotional on the last day of class at the Chamberlin School in South Burlington, where she interned for a semester under Maryanne Routhier, a 2003 graduate of UVM’s elementary education program. Her students threw a celebration and gave her books for her first classroom, a teacher bag they decorated with all their names on it, and a “book they made of ‘teacher tips’ where they each gave me some advice for next year, which was pretty hilarious coming from six-year-olds.”

“The courses I took at UVM really helped in areas like curriculum and lesson planning, but I definitely learned the most about teaching by being in the classroom,” says Prindiville. "UVM does a great job of getting students into classrooms even before your final internship. I absolutely loved my time here. It was like I wasn’t in college anymore because I was going to a real job every day."

An up-to-date student teaching experience

Fayneese Miller, dean of the College of Education and Social Services, and her colleagues have focused on enhancing a number of areas related to the student teaching experience in the early childhood, elementary, secondary and special education programs. In addition to increasing the number of field experiences prior to a student’s internship-practicum, there’s been a push for students to earn a special education endorsement along with their teacher’s certificate.

“The most significant change has been the year-long placements for our dual endorsement students who are pursuing a license in elementary education and special education,” says Ellen Baker, who was hired in 2003 as the college’s first director of teacher education and serves as chair of a committee charged with adding special education courses. “They have a fully integrated experience that prepares them for endorsements in both areas and are very sought after for jobs because of their dual expertise.”

There’s also an effort to integrate more English Language Learner (ELL)-based curriculum and eventually be able to provide ELL-endorsement to students. Placing students in more diverse districts with increased numbers of ELL learners like Winooski and Burlington, where close to 30 percent of the student population originate from other countries, is also a priority.

In every case, the goal is to improve the overall student teaching experience in an effort to produce well prepared and qualified teachers.

Baker, who has 33 years of experience in public schools as a classroom teacher, assistant principal and literacy coordinator, says exposing students to the classroom early in their college career is important for a number of reasons. “It helps students make informed decisions and filter out those who find they really don’t want to teach," she says. "I was sent to teach in the South Bronx at age 20 and they ate me up alive. But I stuck with it, and I evolved and learned. It can be overwhelming at first because you suddenly realize that you’re a teacher, a parent, a shrink and a social worker. We really believe that you can read about lesson planning or math instruction, but if you’re not seeing it and doing it, it’s meaningless. We want an authentic learning experience for these students.”

Emma Pollard '12, who is currently working as a long-term substitute at Swanton Elementary, says her four student teaching experiences at schools in Winooksi, Milton, Swanton and South Burlington were very different and extremely beneficial.

"You really have to adopt your teaching style to meet the varying needs of your students," she says. "We learned a lot about differentiating instruction and behavior management at UVM and it was very helpful for when you actually got in front of a class. I feel really prepared and very comfortable going into a classroom to teach."

Allegra Miller, principal at Shelburne Community School, says the UVM students who complete their internships at her school are well prepared and come with critical backing of UVM staff and faculty. She sees the intern-teacher relationship as a two-way street. “Our teachers benefit by having UVM students in their classroom,” she says. “It really goes both ways because they are coming from a university setting and sharing the latest research and exchanging ideas. Anytime you have a discussion about what you do and reflect on your professional practices, you learn something.”

Preparing for prime time

A student’s first exposure to the act of teaching usually comes during their sophomore year when they spend three hours a week in the classroom before being tasked with teaching a lesson. The junior-year experience includes six hours a week in the classroom as part of an internship with no concurrent education courses, so students can concentrate on their internship and build their electronic professional portfolio. Seniors spend a full semester in the classroom and are expected to help the main teacher as needed, attend staff meetings, open houses, and conferences and eventually take charge of the class for a two- to three-week solo teaching experience without the main teacher in the room. During every phase of their classroom experience, students are regularly evaluated by their teachers, program coordinator and university supervisor.

Back at UVM, students take courses that support their classroom efforts focused on objectives, goals, standards, differentiation, pedagogy, reflection and other outcomes. A rubric called Professional Attributes and Dispositions Assessment (PADA) is used to measure professionalism, punctuality, confidentiality, collaboration and whether students are "acting like a teacher" by using established dispositions. A Web-based assessment and e-portfolio system called TaskStream helps students build an electronic curriculum vitae with archived documentation including lesson plans, comments from mentors, videos and blogs they designed for their classroom and other profile information that can be given to employers as part of their resume package.

“It’s not a bulky notebook like it used to be,” says Baker. “It’s all online and very dynamic with a lot of room for reflection and updating. When they start applying for jobs, they can bring it to an interview and hand the interviewer a memory stick and say, 'This is who I am.'”