Eppes Middle School teacher Kirsten Coleman, left, works with Aujahanna Davis at C.M. Eppes Middle School in Greenville. Coleman is part of a collaboration with ECU to support new teachers. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Collaborative effort underway to enroll new teachers in graduate school

Dec. 18, 2014

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

East Carolina University wants to entice new teachers in Pitt County to become students again.

ECU’s College of Education has received a $60,000 grant from the BelleJar Foundation that will help pay for 12 first-year teachers in high-need schools to get their master’s degrees in a collaborative effort with Pitt County Schools.

Seven teachers have enrolled in graduate school at ECU, and officials are recruiting to fill the remaining slots at Belvoir Elementary, C.M. Eppes Middle, HB Sugg/SD Bundy Elementary and North Pitt High.

High-need schools typically have more beginning teachers, double-digit teacher turnover rates, and a large number of students who receive free and reduced lunch.

“We want to touch as many teachers as we can,” said Dr. Judy Smith, ECU associate professor of elementary education and middle grades education. “We are preparing effective teachers and we want to retain those teachers in eastern North Carolina.”

The program, Collaborative Teaching Communities, is aimed at giving new teachers “the time and support necessary to gain skills and confidence required to teach successfully, particularly in high need settings,” according to the grant summary.

Those in the program will be part of professional teaching teams. The teams will include one master teacher, two ECU undergraduate co-teaching student interns and two novice teachers (first to third year teachers). The program builds on a successful co-teaching model piloted in the ECU College of Education.

“The benefit for us is that we’ve got our master teachers in the schools working directly with beginning teachers and interns in a more comprehensive way,” said Seth Brown, teacher support coordinator with Pitt County Schools.

He explained that “like co-teaching, two ECU undergraduate student interns are placed in a master teacher’s classroom, where teaching and learning is maximized through collaboration, co-instruction and co-assessment. In this expanded model, two novice teachers and their classrooms are assigned to the same master teacher.

“The master teacher and the two novice teachers are still responsible for delivering lessons to their classroom daily, but with this extension of co-teaching, five teachers (instead of three) are sharing in the planning, organization, delivery, and assessment of instruction for three classrooms (instead of one),” Brown said.

Jennifer Stalls, an ECU alumna and sixth-grade science teacher at Eppes, is working toward a master’s degree in middle grades education with a concentration in science through the grant program at ECU. She expects to graduate in 2016.

Left to right at Eppes Middle School are ECU intern Alexandra Arsenault, Eppes teacher Kirsten Coleman and ECU intern Allie Smith, who are all working together on the same team to enhance teacher preparation.

“Going back to school and working at the same time is an incredible challenge,” said Stalls, who is in her second year of teaching and still experimenting with techniques and instructional methods to see what works best for her students.

Because of the support provided to beginning teachers at Eppes, Stalls said she had a phenomenal first year. “The experience I gained as a beginning teacher helped me tremendously as a graduate student,” she said. The co-teaching team helps Stalls in planning and practice. “As a cohort, we are able to plan together to improve instruction for our diverse group of learners,” she said.

Interning at Eppes has been one of the best experiences of ECU senior Lexie Arsenault’s college career, she said. Arsenault is a middle grades mathematics and science education major and ECU Maynard Scholar.

“I enjoy working with the students, helping them grasp concepts, and seeing that light bulb go off above their heads when it finally clicks,” Arsenault said. “My internship has given me the opportunity to work with some amazing professionals who are always willing to help ensure that I am comfortable in my school setting.”

Research shows that co-teaching models improve student performance. “That part is important because it’s not worth doing if it doesn’t positively impact the kids,” Brown said.

Up to $5,000 is available for graduate school through the grant, which some participants have said is the only way they could pursue an advanced degree.

“The money is important, but to deliberately create that collaboration and support is more important in the early years,” Brown said. “If we’re not deliberate about how we recruit, retain and reward teachers, then we’re not going to have teachers to teach our kids.”

Mentoring and advising is crucial because the highest attrition comes in the first four years of teaching, Brown said. “If we provide them support, they will know that if they can get through this, they can get through anything,” he said.

Research also shows it can take up to three years for a new teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom. “Our goal is to prepare teachers to positively impact student achievement their first year out in the field,” Smith said.

The grant provides an instructional coach with years of teaching experience to work with the co-teaching teams as well. “The coaches are really valuable,” Smith said. “They’re not evaluating but observing and giving assistance and support to the entire team through mentoring and professional development.”

Success will be measured by student achievement, teacher performance and satisfaction and increased teacher retention.

“When a teacher starts working toward a higher degree, they get more invested,” Smith said. “It’s that domino effect.”

If the program proves successful, ECU’s College of Education wants to apply for additional grant funding to expand to more of the 39 public school systems with whom they work in eastern North Carolina.

To learn more, contact Dr. Judy Smith at smithjud@ecu.edu or 252-737-2486 or Dr. Christina Tschida at tschidac@ecu.edu or 252-737-4161. Applications are available through Pitt County Schools by contacting Seth Brown at brownse@pitt.k12.nc.us or 252-558-6831.

Pictured below ECU intern Alexandra Arsenault, right, works with Eppes middle schooler Daceion Sander.