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‘Mama Bear’ Teacher Says edTPA Gave Student Teacher Realistic Classroom Experience

LaSaundra Colson Wade has worked with a lot of student teachers in her 18 years as an educator. That’s why she knew that it wasn’t business as usual last spring when she began working with a teacher candidate from nearby Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA, who was going through edTPA.

And it’s one of the reasons she’s not surprised that this spring’s student teacher is already her full-time teaching colleague.

But back to the beginning.

Wade said her edTPA orientation at Armstrong State was thorough, but it also left her a bit “scared” by the level of planning and self-reflection that was going to be required of Brianna Plachy, her new student teacher—and what that meant for her as the supervising teacher.

“To be honest, I was concerned about whether I could provide the faculty support she would need,” recalls Wade, who chairs the science department at A. E. Beach High School in Savannah. “Then I saw that edTPA commentaries were aligned with the methodologies and research we use in our statewide teacher evaluation system. My comfort level did go up.”

Wade continued to see dramatic differences between past clinical experiences and the one framed by edTPA. Previously, candidates would discuss mostly classroom management and basic practices with her. That was a good start, she says, but there was not much reflection on what was working or not working and how to adjust.

Now, she notes, student teachers must think and act like real classroom teachers. They must understand their students, evaluate student work, and use formative assessments. “I love the fact that they video record and analyze what they are doing. The [portfolio] commentaries really force them to think about their work,” she said. “They are forced to teach in every sense of the word.”

Wade notes that Plachy was highly organized and detail oriented and did not procrastinate—which was immensely helpful during student teaching and edTPA. But she also put a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect. That was where Wade stepped in.

“I’m kind of like a mama bear. I wanted to make sure she was OK,” says Wade. “She has high standards. I had to be there to say, ‘Not everything is going to all work out the way it is supposed to. You have to be flexible.’ ” The edTPA rubrics helped with these conversations by giving Wade and Plachy a framework around which to discuss lessons and planning. Wade never told Plachy what to say or do, instead offering her a sounding board.

“We were reflective every single day. We did a lot of talking and reflecting,” Wade recalls. “That was one of the most important things. We talked about her back-up plans when things don’t work.”

But the lessons didn’t stop with Plachy. Wade says she learned as well. “This process made me look at what I was doing. As veteran teachers, we get a little comfortable. Teaching becomes automatic,” says Wade. “Now when a student teacher comes in, it reminds me of the extra effort I should be making.”

Wade understands that some teachers might shy away from working with candidates going through edTPA. “It does require them to do more. But teachers who are interested in growing new teachers and helping them to stay in the profession will be interested,” she explained. “This edTPA process makes the teaching experience more realistic for the candidates so that when they are in the real classroom, they are not like deer caught in the headlights.”

Wade said she was not surprised that Plachy received passing edTPA scores from national scorers and positive feedback from local faculty. More important, though, A. E. Beach leaders saw enough from Plachy that they not only offered her a position at the school next fall, but hired her as soon as she graduated to fill a spot for the remainder of this school year that had been vacated by a full-time teacher.

“She’s doing really well,” Wade says of her new colleague. “She was prepared.”

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Linda McKee

Sr. Director for Performance Measurement and Assessment Policy