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MSU's elementary teacher preparation program receives redesign

December 7, 2021

Michigan State University’s elementary teacher preparation program recently received a redesign to try and better prepare students for their future careers in education. 

The redesign came after the Michigan Department of Education, or MDE, changed its accreditation scheme, so prospective teachers, or teachers, are certified in either Pre-Kindergarten through grade three or grades three through six, according to Associate Director of Elementary Programs Tonya Bartell. 

“We used that as a starting point to redesign our program where our students have the option of choosing PK-3 or 3-6,” Bartell said. “At the same time, we recognize that we wanted to also make sure that well prepared beginning elementary teachers not only were supported in understanding content and pedagogy for those grade levels, but also addressing other needs in our schools in Michigan.”

The teacher preparation program at Michigan State University is designed to prepare College of Education students to face the current challenges in schools and classrooms.

Students pick one of three areas of study to specialize in: elementary, secondary or special education. 

Through the program students earn over 1,000 hours of classroom experience, which includes an internship teaching for a full academic year. 

Changes being implemented to the program 

Bartell said students in the elementary teacher preparation program are also required to take an additional endorsement, teaching English to speakers of other languages, or TESOL, or special education. While the PK-3 grade band can take an additional endorsement in Birth-K.

“In this way, we now have teachers that are not only just prepared in, again, continent pedagogy for those grade bands, but they’re also able to help support English learners, or special education students or pre-preschool students,” Bartell said. 

Another main component of the redesign is part of the College of Education’s mission statement regarding the focus on equity and injustice. 

“That has been a theme for us for a long time," Bartell said. “We worked in this redesign to keep that very explicit, and to make sure that we had components in place, and that was integrated throughout the years of the program and not just one course, say at the beginning.”

According to Bartell, the MDE listed special education and TESOL teachers as some of the highest needs areas in the state, and that the College of Education wants to respond that need.

Director of the Teacher Preparation Program Gail Richmond said there are also new initiatives that are ongoing.

“This is our first year we have a residency initiative where students — from within our program — can apply to one of our residency opportunities,” Richmond said. “This year they are with Detroit Public Schools Community District … and East Point, which is located outside Detroit.”

Lansing Public Schools will be added to that initiative next year, Richmond said. 

“The residents will either live in or very near the district,” Richmond said. “They will sub one day a week and get paid for that. They engage in additional community engagement activities that are co-designed by the community and placement school and MSU.”

Students who finish the initiative successfully will be guaranteed a teaching job in the district.  

Bartell said the College of Education wanted to maintain the program’s strengths during the redesign, including having well prepared beginning teachers. 

“In our redesign we still made sure that we have a full year internship for all of our students prior to their certification,” Bartell said. “That’s really important because they have the opportunity to take the lead in an elementary classroom, gradually, over the course of the year.”

Bartell added: “Principals, and others who have hired our students have said that they noticed a real distinct difference in confidence, and in just general preparedness for teaching from our students who have had that opportunity.”

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Waiting for approval from the state

According to Bartell, the application for the elementary teacher preparation program officially went into the MDE for approval in November, and it is not yet approved. 

“We started offering this program in 2019 for students, in the sense that we have already started to change the courses,” Bartell said. “So our students are taking these courses while we wait for approval.”

If the program is approved by the MDE, it will have approval before the substantive changes for students start next year, Bartell said.

“My sense is that we will hear back relatively quickly, we’ll definitely know in the spring,” Bartell said about how long approval will take. 

Plans to redesign secondary teacher preparation program

Richmond said the secondary teacher preparation program is currently in the process of being redesigned. 

“We’re in that process this year in anticipation of submitting to the University and the state about a year from now,” Richmond said. “There are a lot of different steps it has to take both from within the college, and then it has to go to the University Curriculum Committee and that has to be approved. It takes quite a while to get any curriculum changed.”

Earlier this year, College of Education students created and signed a petition to being awareness to issues with the teacher preparation program's fifth-year teaching internship, including mental health and financial concerns. The petition received nearly 35 pages of signatures and called on the College of Education to address their concerns.

At the time, Richmond said the College of Education was aware of the petition and was actively working to address students' concerns with the internship program.

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