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WHY BLOG?  WHY NOW? WHY BELIEVE AND PREPARE?

Louisiana has piloted yearlong residencies for aspiring teachers since 2014 through Believe and Prepare, impacting over 1,200 resident and mentor teachers and over 26,000 students statewide. Backed by the Louisiana Board of Regents, the polices passed in October ensure that all teacher candidates in the 2018-2019 year and beyond will have the same experience as those who participated in the Believe and Prepare program.

Through this innovative blog, Louisiana educators share their knowledge and experience preparing the next generation of teachers through a yearlong residency.  Hear from teachers, mentors, school and preparation leaders, aspiring teachers, and researchers how residencies are honoring, respecting, and professionalizing teaching and educational leadership.

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This blog will appeal to passionate educators committed to elevating the teaching profession and serves as a platform to share the latest practices, tools, and resources to support school system and preparation provider partnerships and create quality residency experiences for aspiring teachers.

Join us the first and third Tuesday each month to hear from educators across the state committed to preparing teachers who are classroom ready on day one. If you are interested in submitting a blog on this site please contact BelieveandPrepare@la.gov.
 

  • Write Your Wrongs

    Mar 07, 2017
    Believe and Prepare Blog Headshot - Ebarb

    New Orleans native author Anne Rice has some sage advice that I think all new teachers should embrace: “Go where the pain is; go where the pleasure is.” As a new teacher, you will quickly grimace at the challenges and grin at the joys that you always assumed teaching could offer. You will be caught between proving your worth professionally and connecting with students personally. One way that you can bridge this gap is to invest in writing in the classroom.

    Granted, teaching writing is tough. It’s a labyrinth of looping distractions and crumbled breadcrumbs, and you can only hope that on your way back out of the process, you can somehow stumble home to a sense of normalcy. It’s gritty. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It’s coffee-shop Saturdays. It’s one-on-one desk conferences with thirty students in fifty minutes. It will make you question your sanity at times. But to the tens or hundreds of students with which you have the honor of experiencing growth and learning, it’s essential.

    I’ve spoken to several colleagues outside of the English classroom who have reservations to teach writing. “I don’t remember the grammar,” some say. “I don’t want to contradict ‘you English people,’” others lament. As a new teacher, regardless of content, do not be afraid to take your kids on a writing journey. There will be hiccups and delays. There will be frustrations and breakthroughs. But Rice reminds us all to seek out the pain and pleasure because each is essential to help both you and your students grow.

    Perhaps the ultimate key to unlock what we must be and do as teachers lies in the etymology of the word “write.” Words for “write” in most Indo-European languages originally meant “carve, scratch, or cut.” If we adopt and attribute this meaning to today’s classroom, we can then view writing as a process of chipping away and scratching deep into a topic or text in hopes of unveiling the deeper context or argument. The key to any classroom, whether you are a novice teacher or an experienced educator, is to have your students write often to prove a level of high thinking. Using both weak and exemplar models for students to peruse and dissect has worked well in my classroom. Sample responses and essays are vital for a classroom that values writing, as students can work together to break down strengths and weaknesses of the writing so they can either apply or avoid particular traits. Even creating exemplar models with fellow teachers, followed by shared reading and grading, can help you reflect and share ideas on what is working and what needs improvement, while also making the experience seem not so isolated.

    As a teaching profession, if we all remain committed to the craft of writing and re-writing – to the process and product of writing – we can help both the students and ourselves carve, scratch, and cut a path to success. Additionally, if you want to be effective and if you want to ensure your students are thinking critically at high levels, you must leave room for re-writing and revision – the scratching, messy part. A teacher’s number one resistance to this advice is usually centered on a lack of time. And while this is valid, completely dismissing the notion of revision opportunities does not help students improve their craft of written expression. A suggestion is to give students a chance to break down their own writing, along with their peers’ writing, to learn from living, breathing samples produced by students in the classroom. Have students conduct targeted workshops. Do not make the experience overwhelming for students, as many students view “peer editing” as simply a chance to pat each other on the back. Show students the importance of the process so that the product can either meet or exceed proficiency. As Robert Scholes and Nancy Comley indicate in their work The Practice of Writing, “to refuse revision is to refuse thought itself.”

    Another practical tip I have initiated in my classroom and within my English department is a “number” coding system for feedback. I call it “Commendations and Corrections.” This helps teachers speed up the feedback on writing assignments and assists students with having clear pre-established expectations they can use in all facets of the writing system, including revisions. As a department, create a list of positive qualities (“commendations”) you want to see in student work and negatives you want students to avoid. Assign each trait either an even number (a positive commendation) or an odd number (a criticism/suggestion/correction). Any time a student does something well in his or her writing, offer praise with an even number. If the student has erred or needs to improve a particular skill, offer criticism with an odd number. This is a valuable strategy because it will remind you to compliment what the student does well so that he or she will continue doing it. It also helps students see their areas that require more work and attention. This same technique can work across content lines if new teachers are willing to reach out across various departments to discuss what high and low quality work look like.

    At the end of the day, have students approach their writing as a block of wood or a slab of marble ready to be manipulated into a masterpiece by the gifted artist. Inch by inch, chisel move by chisel move, slice by slice, the object assumes a new character in small, steady increments. Don’t be afraid of the mess. Step over it. Step around it. When you get to the pain, keep going to find the pleasure. As a new teacher, don’t be afraid to slow down. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Mark Ebarb is a 2015 Louisiana Teacher of the Year finalist. He has been an educator for eight years and currently teaches at Dutchtown High School in Ascension Parish.

    For more information about the literacy competencies required for initial teacher certification, see the Louisiana Teacher Preparation Competencies available in the preparation library that BESE approved in October 2016.

  • Paving the Way for a New Generation

    Feb 20, 2017

    Believe and Prepare Blog Headshot - Shannon
      
    Believe and Prepare…these powerful words are changing the face of teacher preparation in our state. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity of being a mentor teacher to a yearlong teacher resident. When I was introduced to the program through Louisiana Tech University, I immediately had an “I drank the Kool-Aid” moment! I know that our schools need quality teachers that are prepared to take our students, our schools, and our state to the next level. Putting qualified, highly trained, and experienced new teachers in the classrooms is key to this success.

    I have learned first-hand how these residents come in and take ownership in the classroom. They dive into the curriculum, and, from day one, the students become “their” students.

    My resident, Adriane Meggs is my co-teacher. She is my partner, and she is my “baby bird,” as I affectionately refer to her. The students view her as a second teacher, which is clear from their respect of her and their confidence in asking her for help. If you visit our classroom, it is hard to tell which one of us has multiple years of experience and which is an aspiring teacher completing the second half of their residency year.

    In a classroom of twenty-two to twenty- six children, we all know it is difficult to meet the needs of all the children every day. One day in the second week of school, I was giving a test. At some point, I looked around and Ms. Meggs and one of our students were gone. She never said a word; she just took him and left the room. After some time, she came back in and her eyes were wide. When I asked what was going on, Ms. Meggs says, “He knows all the answers, he just can’t read!”

    This particular student had been using amazing survival skills and auditory learning to get by, yet at test time could not read the questions to complete the test. Ms. Meggs picked up on this, took the student into the hallway, read the test aloud to him, and the student made an 88/B!Ms. Meggs then wanted to know what the procedure was for getting this student special services. She was an important part in doing the needed response to intervention (RTI) for him and getting him to the school building level committee (SBLC).  This type of first-hand experience is why I believe classrooms really are where teachers learn best how to meet the needs of all students. Meggs was able to experience the process and put into practice the RTI strategies she is learning to ensure this student’s needs were met.  She owned the process, as we worked together to ensure his needs are met.

    This year Ms. Meggs has taught lessons and graded papers, she has seen and handled melt downs, dealt with behavior issues, gone on field trips, cared for sick children, assisted with proficiency tests, mediated playground girl drama, listened to a million stories, and celebrated victories both small and large. In May, she will have completed her first year of teaching with such valuable information that can only be gained by having enough time in a classroom to put into practice all the knowledge and skills she has learned. My “baby bird” will fly away from me in May, but she will always have a friend and mentor in me.  I will continue to guide her, keep in touch with her, and watch her become an expert teacher in a Louisiana classroom.  On a personal note, serving as a mentor has made me more aware of the moves I make daily to ensure my students are learning. Having a co-teacher has introduced me to new ideas and grown my own practice.

    We need expert teachers as we enter the next phase and move to a place of greater success for our students, our schools, and our state. I am so thankful to be part of this exciting program, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for our children.

    Shannon P. Embanato
    3rd Grade – English Language Arts
    Sallie Humble Elementary
    Monroe City Schools
      
  • A Principal’s Challenge

    Jan 11, 2017

    Believe-and-Prepare-Blog-Headshot-Chandler-Smith

    On July 1, 2012, I was given the awesome task of the principalship at Plaquemine High School in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. The school was rated a “D” and considered a challenge many thought was impossible to repair. That summer, I had to build a team to create a vision, implement a positive culture and plan for highly effective instruction. My first and most important job: hire nine new teachers.

    I wanted the best and most effective teachers I could find.

    My team created interview questions and scenarios to assist us in the search process. We contacted our human resources department at the school board to get applicants, and we interviewed for the entire month of June. 

    The challenge was great; find teachers who were prepared for a classroom where students came with academic, social and emotional needs. This was a far greater obstacle than I had imagined. The new teachers who we interviewed were naive to the challenges teachers face in a realistic classroom setting: teaching to rigorous academic standards, planning highly effective activities where all students are engaged and challenged, and managing a classroom of students who rely on structures and procedures for their success. Many of those new teachers knew the theory of what it meant to be a highly effective teacher, but the implications of that theory had not been practiced or witnessed first-hand with a master or mentor teacher supporting them in the process. 

    That same school year we also implemented the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, and began to train teachers on highly effective strategies and best practices. We created clusters or job-embedded professional learning communities who met weekly. We had master and mentor teachers whose responsibility it was to assist teachers in effective classroom instruction and management.

    Despite our efforts in training our staff through the TAP process, only three of those nine teachers are still with me today.

    How great would it have been for my nine new teachers to have experienced an entire year of practice alongside a mentor teacher during their preparation experience before being given the responsibility of their first classroom? In Louisiana, this type of preparation experience will become part of every aspiring teacher’s entry into the profession thanks to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).  In fall 2016, BESE approved policies for teacher preparation programs to include a yearlong residency that will benefit both the teacher and the schools in which they serve.

    The first year for any teacher is the most challenging year in their career. For six of those new teachers, it was too much. I can’t help but think if our state had implemented yearlong residencies; those teachers might still be on our team at Plaquemine High School.

    Since 2012, we have grown to a “B” school and the credit for that letter grade goes to the outstanding teachers who understand the challenges of the classroom and who believe in the success their students can achieve.   In the future, I look forward to hosting aspiring teachers in their residency programs in those teachers’ classrooms so that every new teacher experiences success in their first year.

    Chandler W. Smith
    Principal
    Plaquemine High School
    Iberville Parish


    IN CASE YOU MISSED IT 

    Following the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's adoption of landmark educator preparation regulations, educators across Louisiana who participated in the pilots spoke out in national and state media supporting the full implementation of the Believe and Prepare program.


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