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Strengthening Our Teacher Pipeline

A new state grant allows Ursinus College and the Perkiomen Valley School District to enhance its teacher prep program and give undergraduate students a more robust experience.

A state grant-funded effort will better prepare Ursinus College students to become teachers, enhancing their field experiences and strengthening a partnership with the Perkiomen Valley School District.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has awarded Ursinus a $21,960 grant through its Innovative Teacher Prep2Practice Program, which is aimed at stimulating the creation of highly cohesive and innovative clinical experiences for aspiring teachers. The program also strives to diversify the teaching pipeline and present more opportunities for students of color to become teachers.

The Ursinus proposal under this grant, “Partners in Teacher Preparation: A College-School Collaboration to Enhance Clinical Experience and Diversity,” will allow Ursinus teacher education students to work more substantively within the Perkiomen Valley School District in the semesters leading up to their student teaching experience during senior year.

On its website, the state department of education recognizes that teaching candidates need to be introduced to practice earlier in their preparation because “the field remains remarkably wedded to an outdated model wherein clinical experience is loaded heavily at the end of the pre-service program.”

“Traditionally, student teaching in senior year is the big culminating experience where students in teacher programs go beyond simply observing in schools and get deeply immersed in professional practice,” said Ursinus Associate Professor and Chair of Education John Spencer. “We’ve been working on getting them involved in hands-on field experiences sooner, throughout their time in college, and this grant program will really help us to go further in that work.”

For Ursinus students, that could mean more exposure to classroom and teaching experiences in their first two years, and more robust collaboration with PV schools to ensure excellent matches between students and mentors during junior year to build familiarity and help students “hit the ground running” in their clinical student teaching semester.

According to limited federal data, as of last fall, 45 percent of U.S. public schools had at least one teacher vacancy, further illuminating a teacher shortage that continues to impact the profession. The Ursinus/PV partnership could ultimately help to reverse that trend and could even open pathways for high school students interested in becoming teachers. Spencer said, “We want to make the teaching program and the profession better by enabling students to have these good experiences and these good field placements, which hopefully will help them enter teaching and stay in it.”

Furthermore, Spencer notes a wide national gap between low percentages of teachers of color and much higher percentages of students of color in schools. Through the Innovative Teacher Prep2Practice Program, he hopes to build upon partnerships with campus organizations to identify and provide resources to students who might consider becoming teachers.

“We want to shape positive experiences for as wide a range of students as possible, so they are well prepared to succeed and contribute once they reach the workforce,” Spencer said. “We’re excited to be partnering with PV Schools in this important work.”

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