Teaching Tomorrow's Teachers

Roanoke's new approach meets changing classroom needs here and throughout the world

Children living with grandparents or just one parent, students who don't speak English, those who are far more advanced than others and those who can't read: Picture 35 students, all of differing abilities and socioeconomic situations, and you have the typical classroom in America. But in an age where the challenges of any classroom can seem overwhelming, Roanoke College is graduating true teachers of tomorrow.

In fact, those seeking teacher licensure are prepared as never before. They're taking advantage of student teaching and internships the College now offers in Germany and Italy through U.S. Department of Defense schools. They are directed into Roanoke area "partner schools" as student teachers, interns and frequently full-time teachers. They are being taught the most current skills in educational technology, including developing and launching a Web-based portfolio. They also are mentored by education program alumni, and some are even participating in the Margaret Sue Copenhaver Institute for Teaching and Learning, an influential program held on campus every summer for educators from around the globe.

Such offerings are attracting the best and brightest. Two of the College's last three valedictorians, for example, are teachers: Rebekah Hellkamp '06, who interned at a partner school and spent two years managing student programs for the Copenhaver Institute, will begin her student teaching this fall in the Roanoke Valley area, and Brandy Collier '04, who studied for a semester in Ghana, did a May term in Tanzania and worked at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, is now using what she learned as she teaches at a Roanoke area middle school. Likewise, Jimmy Winterer '06, a notable Maroon baseball player and physics major, recently interned at the Department of Defense schools in Aviano, Italy, and Vilseck, Germany, and is student teaching in Italy this fall at Aviano American High School.

"It's all pretty amazing," Hellkamp says. "The College has the most up-to-date resources and opportunities, and even when you're done with your student teaching, the professors make it clear they want you to come back with any questions you might have. There's such a connection."

Roanoke College students who plan to teach now invest in a liberal arts education rather than only a teaching degree. Dr. Tim Reynolds, chairman of the College's education program, says the Virginia Department of Education wants to make sure that future teachers have strong content knowledge, so they are required to major in the arts and sciences. "We want to ensure that teachers know not only how to teach but what to teach,'' Reynolds says.

Dr. John Day, vice president and dean of the College, says a rich liberal arts education is the best
preparation for a teacher. The success of Roanoke College's education program was recognized when it was recently reaccredited without reservation by the Virginia Department of Education for the maximum seven years, he says. The College also is considering adding an interdisciplinary area as well as English as a second language and a special-needs concentration to the education program.

"We have a rigorous program with high expectations, with opportunities for both internships and student teaching," Day says. "By the end of that, students should have an accurate idea of what is expected of high-quality teachers, and they are expected to be that, themselves."

Mentorships are one way that students in the Education program can learn from those who came before. Leslie Clark '06 took advantage of a mentorship opportunity by student teaching under Meggen Devlin '00 at Glenvar Elementary School in Roanoke County. Devlin points out that the benefits go both ways. "We feel we have good teachers in our school, and the student teacher will be helped by that," she says. "But we can also apply some of the student teacher's ideas -- there's a good exchange.''

Clark and Devlin also are taking part in a teacher mentorship study conducted by Dr. Leslie Murrill, associate professor of education, and Dr. Lisa Earp, assistant professor. Roanoke College is known for getting students involved with professors' research projects, and in this case it has helped both teachers and students. "We are trying to follow teachers over the course of the continuum of teaching to see their professional development. Two veteran teachers are supervising two pre-service [beginning] teachers, and we're watching this relationship unfold," Murrill says. She and Earp also are working together to write a book about teacher mentoring.

In an effort to give area schools and the College's student teachers even greater advantages, Roanoke has established a partnership program that feeds graduates into several participating schools. The schools benefit from new teachers' enthusiasm and fresh ideas and in exchange help these recent graduates gain experience in the classroom. Graduates may have both pedagogical and content knowledge, but they need to develop a practice. "I have the opportunity to provide a very effective student teaching experience, and it's sort of like first dibs -- if I have a student teacher with potential, I can hire him,'' says Asia Jones, the principal of Roanoke's Breckinridge Middle School.

Andrew Sayers '00, at the recommendation of the Roanoke College education faculty, was hired as a long-term substitute by Jones and has now become a full-time teacher at Breckinridge, joining two other Roanoke College graduates already there. Because of the partner school program, Jones has a close relationship with the faculty at Roanoke College and values its recommendations. "Sayers was able to shadow and student teach before our teacher went on sick leave and to establish a rapport early on," Jones says. "Our team embraced him as a very energetic and knowledgeable person who was willing to go the extra mile." Jones says she has had only great experiences with the student teachers from Roanoke, adding: "These are people who have a calling."

Along with Breckinridge, the other partner schools include Troutville Elementary School in Botetourt County, Andrew Lewis Middle School in Salem, Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County, and in Roanoke city Huff Lane Microvillage (elementary school) and Oakland Intermediate School. They represent four school divisions, some in suburban areas, some in inner city, and some, Reynolds says, that would be described as hard-to-staff schools.

Jones firmly believes that teaching is a calling and says the student teachers and interns she receives from Roanoke College come to realize that in her classrooms. "You have to wear so many hats other than teach a subject. You're a social worker, and it goes beyond the 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. day." Teachers have to recognize the issues that children come to them with, and they must continue to work during the summer to stay current in their curriculum. "That's what these internships do: They give students the opportunity to see a veteran teacher and recognize ways they can cut their own path," she says.

Through the partnership, the College provides professional development to these schools' teachers and involves them in the Margaret Sue Copenhaver Institute each year. In addition, the College's students are placed in these schools for internships and student-teaching opportunities, where the Roanoke faculty has a hands-on approach in closely supervising their progress. Teachers and administrators from the partner schools also serve on one of two different committees at the College -- either the Teacher Education Advisory Council or the Copenhaver Institute Steering Committee. That way, the College can tell the partner schools what their student teachers need in the classroom, and the schools' teachers and administrators can tell the College what skills the teachers of tomorrow will need. Cutting-edge teachers are no longer taught in an ivory tower, Reynolds says. "This is real, practical knowledge, and this is a means of our students getting in and getting their feet wet and their hands dirty with experts in the field,'' he says.

The impact Roanoke College intends to make in the area extends far beyond its six partner schools -- to the Southwest Virginia Professional Education Consortium (consisting of Roanoke College, Virginia Tech, Radford University and Hollins University) as well as the 10 public school divisions in the Roanoke and New River valleys. Reynolds, who points out that 50 percent of teachers leave the field in their first five years, adds that the consortium works to stem the attrition by providing new graduates the support they so desperately need. "We're still there to help them," he says.

Nevertheless, many Roanoke College students do their internships and student teaching well beyond the Roanoke Valley. In Germany and Italy, for example, they become aware of how culture can affect learning. The student teachers there see the structure of a German and Italian school day, what subjects are taught and what the expectation of the student is. "The way we do schools in America is not necessarily the way they are conducting them in Europe," Reynolds says. "The students visit European schools, and for some it's their first time abroad. It opens the world for them."

Rachel Mitchell '03 did both her internship and student teaching in Germany before becoming a first-grade teacher in Raleigh, N.C. She says such international experience is rare among teachers and has given her a much broader perspective on education. "Right now, everything seems focused on standards and the curriculum provided by the county," she says, "and it's really helpful just to have a perspective of what's being taught not only nationwide, but worldwide."

Winterer interned during a May term at the Department of Defense school at the Aviano Air Force Base in Vilseck, Germany. "I loved it,'' he says. "I got to see a different atmosphere of teaching in a school where the students are constantly moving around. A lot of these students miss school for long periods of time, and it was good to see how teachers cope with that." Winterer plans to apply to the Department of Defense School program, he says, noting there is a need for younger teachers overseas.

Mary Zimmerman Bayer, principal of the Grafenwoehr U.S. Department of Defense school in Germany, says that by extending internship and student-teaching opportunities to Roanoke College students they are, together, building a learning community. "We have the same goal in mind -- to improve academics. And it gives them a taste to see if they are in the right field. Do they like the kids, and do they like working in the classroom? A teacher has to carry a passion for learning, model that, and share that with the students," she says, adding that even though there are many theories on how to teach, the bottom line is that a teacher should have a good connection with the students.

Cindy Stinson '06, a nontraditional student, decided after 20 years working in accounting and administrative work that she wanted to teach. Her own children were growing up, and she wanted to continue working with youngsters. That goal hasn't taken her as far as Germany, but the religion major did tour the Frederick Douglass High School in Harlem to understand the inner-city experience. She also went on to be one of the student presenters at a conference in Orlando, Fla., for Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education. She had worked as an instructional assistant at Crystal Spring Elementary School in Roanoke before entering Roanoke College and says she truly values the rigor of the program.

"I have come to appreciate the fact that Roanoke College does not offer any kind of accelerated or short-cut program for their teachers," she says. "A lot of colleges are doing that now, but I appreciated the full collegiate experience and the opportunities to go on trips. The strength of this program separates the cream of the crop out there, because it's not an easy program, and with the No Child Left Behind policy, it continues to evolve into a stronger program. I've been working in a school system for six years, and it's definitely necessary to be that strong."

It all starts back in the Roanoke College classroom, where professors mentor potential teachers by modeling and recognizing that each of their students has distinct learning styles. The professors convey that successful teaching depends on understanding differentiated instruction and that teachers must strategically address the needs of 25 or more students. "You have to allow for choices in a way that lets children with different learning styles achieve and engage the content so that it makes sense to them," Earp says. "We differentiate through content, through process, and in the types of assignments we give. A lot of (the College students) are open enough to be approached from different directions. ... If we expect our students to successfully implement cooperative groups in the classroom, they have to experience it and know how it feels."

"Learning is active." That phrase, though practically a mantra in education, is true and something Roanoke College students experience and carry with them into their careers. The Roanoke College education professors don't just give information; they teach skills, and they use strategies that their students take with them into their own classrooms. And now, by pulling together new resources -- both on campus and literally throughout the world -- Roanoke College is changing lives. It's also creating a new generation of teachers who see their calling not as a job but as a true profession.

As Earp says, differentiated instruction is now a necessity. "We have to come up with different strategies, as teachers, to meet the needs of all our kids," she says, "and our education program reflects that change. We're always looking for ways to make a difference."

Released: April 3, 2007