More Than Tutoring: Preparing Quality Teachers While Helping At-Risk Students

Article excerpt

During 15 years of teaching elementary age children, I wrestled daily with how to help atrisk children take giant steps forward with both their abilities to read and their love for reading. Eventually, I went back to graduate school in order to find answers. Reading and writing are passions of mine that I wanted to instill in all my students. Then, I began to teach future teachers and realized anew the need to attract quality teachers to help carry the torch for literacy and the love of learning.

In working with field placements for my reading methods students, it became clear that the typical methods classes did not prepare these future teachers to help at-risk students with reading difficulties effectively. There was simply not enough time spent in the classroom to identify reading strengths and weaknesses and to develop closely matched remediations. Thus, when the opportunity arose to move into a leadership role with a developing universityschool partnership, I welcomed it.

Meanwhile, nestled in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, an elementary school struggled to help its students succeed. Once part of a flourishing mining town, this school reflected the poverty that is typical of the area that surrounds the university. The school, which is filled with dedicated teachers who strongly want their students to succeed, had tried many innovative programs to help raise the academic achievement of its students. So, because the school report cards showed a need for continuous improvement, it seemed an ideal place to launch a literacy partnership for pre-service teachers. In addition, there was a first grade teacher who shared the desire to see both children and future teachers become engaged with literacy and learning. Although both university and school partners each had unique reasons for embarking on this journey together, they shared the vision to support each other and mesh in a common dream.

Thus was born the Literacy Partnership, a program attempting to find the best new teachers who could help meet the "No Child Left Behind" challenge and ensure that all students gain the reading skills needed for academic and lifelong success. The joint vision of the school and the literacy partnership became to increase literacy, improve academic achievement, and nurture and support lifelong learning for students of all ages. This also exemplified the best of effective classrooms and professional development for teachers (Pressley, 2006). For the elementary students, this would be accomplished through in-depth tutoring in literacy skills and strategies, the reduction of the pupiladult ratio in classrooms, an after-school literacy tutoring program, the use of research-based teaching strategies, and more role models who loved reading.

The goal for the schoolteachers and administration was to increase literary expertise by mentoring pre-service teachers, sharing the latest research and teaching methods in literacy, providing opportunities for reflection and immersing pre-service teachers in many opportunities to teach and tutor. This differed from the regular education program in that partnership pre-service teachers spent much more time in the same classrooms all year long, getting to know their cooperating teachers and their students in a much deeper relationship than typical university students who only spent a few hours each week in different classrooms for each methods course.

For undergraduate students, participating in this partnership meant taking rigorous courses, spending hundreds of hours in the classroom practicing what was being learned in university classes, having in-service teachers as yearlong mentors, learning in a supportive cohort, and intensively tutoring one child. These students needed to commit to taking extra courses to earn the reading endorsement and to dedicate much of their time to the program. The result was a place to find dedicated pre-service teachers who would become well prepared new teachers. …

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