The Road Ahead: A-State Prepares New Teachers
By Matthew Emery
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO — The second floor of the Education and Communication building on the campus of Arkansas State University features a lot of traffic. Throughout the day, hundreds of students will rest on the wooden benches that align the narrow halls and line up outside classrooms as they await the start of class.
Inside the Department of Education and Behavioral Science at A-State, the program increased enrollment from 203 to 215 students over the last school year.
However, with teacher strikes continuing to pop up all over the nation and the number of Arkansas teachers quitting after three years in the profession trending upward, some question if A-State students are being prepared for the profession that awaits them.
“Those first few years feel like survival of the fittest, unfortunately,” said Mary Jane Bradley, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Science at A-State.
Bradley noted a “support network” developed by the university that offers regular meetings and conferences to aid newer teachers.
“We focus on self-care, mental health, stress and so on,” she said. Bradley also mentioned a state-provided mentorship program eases the burden that may accompany a new teacher.
As for students currently in the program, Bradley is faithful that the program is sufficiently preparing future teachers. She touts a required internship program designed to be the last course most students take before graduation as a huge factor in teacher readiness for students at A-State.
The internship provides the “capstone experience,” according to Bradley and is a “hands-on, performance semester where the students act like a full-time teacher for three or four weeks” while under the supervision of local classroom teachers from schools that have partnered with the university.
On top of this internship, A-State developed a program in the late 1990s to ensure students gain experience in a range of schools. The university has three categories for partnering public schools, differentiated by the diversity of race, socioeconomic levels, language, and so on. Each student who participates will spend some time with a school in each of those categories.
“We want our students to be able to teach at any school in Arkansas,” Bradley said.
The shortage of teachers in Arkansas and in rural areas seems due in part to poor and unfortunate press coverage and a lack of excitement around the teaching profession, according to Bradley.
In an attempt to spread positive, exciting news about the future of teaching, A-State held a teacher signing ceremony in April, where current students attended and signed pledges to educate among their peers and administration in the education department. The ceremony was similar to athletic commitment signing days.
Sarah Palmer, an elementary education student from Bryant, was one of the dozens of students that signed the pledge. Her commitment to become an educator comes from her desire to work with children.
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids and the more I researched teaching, the more I fell in love,” she said.
While only a sophomore and solely an observer of local classrooms, Palmer said she felt like her time in A-State had been beneficial so far, saying the courses have helped her understand what and how to teach.
Palmer is from central Arkansas and went to a large school and feels a natural affinity to return to a school like that one day. However, she currently observes a smaller school and it has been an enlightening experience for her.
“It’s shown me how close the teachers are with each other and with the students. That’s awesome to me. I would be very open to teaching there,” she said.
Palmer has had a positive experience with the program at A-State, but another student who attended the signing, Sophie Rottinghaus, an English education major from Bay, offered a different perspective.
While she has not yet had the “capstone experience” mentioned by Bradley, Rottinghaus is currently in her “field one experience,” which she described as “mostly observing.” She said she believes teachers should use time wisely with their students and give them tools they can use in life.
“I want to teach them how to learn,” Rottinghaus said. “I don’t feel prepared. I don’t think ASU, or other institutions, equip potential teachers for all the adaptations teachers must make for their students to maximize their learning capabilities.”
Rottinghaus said she believes students are exposed to teachers who lack passion, which sends a bad message to students about learning.
“It’s been a lot of content knowledge and little instruction. I would like for the university to offer more classes on instructional strategies,” Rottinghaus said.
Rottinghaus said she hopes she can help revolutionize the teaching field for a new generation of teachers and their students, stating that people simply are not as passionate about education as they should be.
Bradley echoed the need for passionate teachers.
“There’s no occupation like teaching,” she said. “You make a difference in lives that desperately need you. Every occupation needs a teacher to assist and guide them along the way.”