Strong relationships between the University of New Orleans and local school districts allow UN student teachers to gain real-world experience, energizing classrooms and creating a talent pool between the university and schools in the area.
To earn a degree in education, a UNO student must complete a one-year residency, where he or she works in a classroom setting alongside an experienced educator who serves as a mentor. The model benefits students, teachers and students of the UN.
âIt is a gift to have future teachers who can be coached in our classrooms,â said Tobi Flair, the recruitment specialist for St. Charles Parish public schools. âThey want to make a difference and positively transform lives. It drives renewal on the part of our teacher mentors and it’s refreshing for administrators to see this energy.
Catherine Randall, a second grade teacher at Joseph Davies Elementary School in Saint Bernard Parish, has always loved UN student teachers and the chance to mentor them. Randall said she was impressed with their enthusiasm, interest in technology, and willingness to learn.
âThere are some things you aren’t going to learn from a textbook,â Randall said. âYou have to be prepared for the times when you have an extra five minutes in class because you don’t want to waste it. There will be times when a lesson doesn’t turn out the way you planned. I think part of being a good teacher is knowing that you will be okay. Sometimes you have to rearrange things or start from scratch. You have to know that it is good and that it is part of the process.
Sophia Castillo, a UN senior who works alongside Randall this year, said the experience had helped her apply concepts she learned in college in areas such as lesson planning and classroom management. But by working directly with the students and keeping a close eye on Randall, Castillo learns what it takes for a successful day in an elementary school classroom.
âParticularly because they’re young, they’re starting to talk about something else,â Castillo said. âA great thing I’m learning is how to manage these conversations and allow them to have a say without losing their way. It surprised me, but it’s also a great learning opportunity.
Randall noted that his students also benefit from having a second teacher in the room. One may lead a small group or individual work while the other teaches a larger cohort. Sometimes Castillo conducts a class-wide lesson while Randall communicates with the parents.
âThey know they have two pairs of eyes on them and two teachers to help them out,â Randall said. âI think they see us as a partnership. I always tell them it’s like they’re learning twice because they have two teachers.
COVID encourages flexibility and adaptation
The pandemic has forced most schools and universities to switch to virtual formats and limit in-person contact. But it also presented an opportunity for students and UN staff to adapt to new technologies and methods of education.
For example, the UN started using a digital platform where education students recorded themselves teaching and then shared the video with university supervisors for their feedback. Previously, a supervisor made such observations in person. Using a digital method, these supervisors were able to give specific and time-stamped feedback on the performance of each student.
âWe found the feedback to be really detailed and in-depth,â said Melissa Nunez, UN Clinical and Field Experiences Coordinator and Accreditation Specialist. âI think the quality of the feedback was even better than before. “
Based on that experience, Nunez said the UN is now using a hybrid approach that will combine in-person and digital feedback for its education students.
Additionally, Nunez said the UN has encouraged its student teachers to work with their districts and embrace the technological format they use to reach students. More and more college classes have also focused on teaching education majors how to help students collaborate if they need to socially distance themselves or use hybrid methods.
âIt was something that we had to consider as instructors,â Nunez said. âA lot of it fundamentally changed the way we educate students. They couldn’t do a lot of what we’re teaching, depending on what was going on with the virus. We tried to incorporate a lot of different things and make sure that we were also adaptable. “
Flair said St. Charles Parish has worked with the UN to create virtual field experiences for university students. These temporarily replaced guided in-person observations, where a school administrator sat with a UN student while watching a teacher. With the virtual format, Flair said St. Charles Parish installed devices in a classroom and shared the footage with UN students via Zoom.
âIt allowed a class of UN students to watch a lesson in one of our classrooms, listen to the teacher and watch the students,â Flair said. âWe went further, so after the lesson the teacher was talking to the UN students through Zoom. It really made for a wonderful discussion because they were asking why a teacher was managing a lesson in a certain way or focusing on certain students. They saw these teaching strategies unfold in real time, and then they asked questions. It was an incredible dialogue.
Partnership with Hynes creates an educational community
The UN works in partnership with schools in other ways to improve education. A key relationship is between the UN and Hynes Charter School. When Hynes reopened after Hurricane Katrina, UN leaders began to offer their expertise and serve on the school’s governing board. This collaboration has deepened over the years and has resulted in the opening of Hynes-UNO Charter School.
Michelle Douglas, executive director of Hynes Charter School, said the school had kindergarten, first and second graders this year. It will eventually become a K-8 school with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, as well as a French immersion course.
âThe idea is to uplift primary education and bring kids to a college campus in a safe way,â said Douglas. âThis will allow us to do more programming and service work while enriching the lives of young children by allowing them the space to practice the concepts they are learning and work together. “
Douglas said the close relationship between the UN and Hynes Charter has been beneficial for everyone involved. Some Hynes teachers served as assistant professors. Some UN professors have done professional development work with Hynes teachers. Douglas gave presentations in UN classrooms. All of this has resulted in positive energy on all levels.
“Teachers need to enter this field with a growth mindset, and working with a nationally recognized research university that stays on top of educational trends is a huge advantage in helping them continue their professional development.” , said Douglas. âBeyond education, we have had partnership opportunities with UNO Athletics. We’ve been to games and some of their teams are doing service work in Hynes. We try to look for win-win opportunities for college and school and where our goals are aligned. “
Relationships create a new talent pipeline
For Castillo, the idea of ââbeing an educator is rewarding on several levels. She loves to see students’ faces light up when they come up with a new concept. Plus, the New Orleans native embraces the idea of ââgiving back to the region she has always called home.
âSome of my friends talk about wanting to leave New Orleans, but I feel like I received this gift where I can give back to the community that built me,â she said. “I think the chance to use the tools given to me to help the people around me is really special.”
Tiffani Glapion, principal of Joseph Davis Elementary School, said the school’s partnership with the UN has introduced the school to future teachers who may have overlooked St. Bernard Parish, meaning that they might consider working there full time after graduation.
âI get to work with student teachers who may never have set foot in my building,â Glapion said. âWhen I have a vacancy, I can talk to them about the possibility of applying and keeping them in Saint-Bernard parish. “
Glapion said she was always particularly interested in hiring UN graduates because of the enthusiasm and perspective they bring to her school.
âThey are young and have new ideas. They bring more insight into what we do, âshe said. âIf a child is having difficulty, some of them have had difficulty with the same and will tell us about a method a teacher used to help them. I don’t think a teacher’s toolbox is ever full, so we’re always ready to add more ideas.
To ensure that UN education graduates are as prepared as possible to enter the local workforce, Nunez said university leaders are in constant communication with school districts in the region. on how to improve, the strengths and weaknesses of each student teacher and how the university can best prepare them. Success.
âI feel like our districts are our greatest asset,â she said. âThey help us develop these teachers and make them the people we see when they enter the workforce. We always discuss with district staff what we are doing well and where we can improve. It benefits the UN, our students and local schools.