A Site Visit: Keeping It Real with St. John’s University and P.S. 101
I recently had the opportunity to visit St. John’s University in New York City at the invitation of Dean Michael Sampson. Witnessing a high-functioning clinical partnership in action was both inspiring and reassuring, providing a concrete glimpse into the terrific work being done around the country to prepare high-quality teachers.
My visit began at P.S. 101 in Queens, a St. John’s partner school. There, I met with university-based instructor Liz Chase, Department Chair Judith McVarish, Assistant Principals Laura Fahey and Irtis Gonzalez, and Principal Monique Paniagua. The school was bustling with youngsters greeting friends and teachers exuberantly as we made our way to the principal’s office. The joy and laughter filling the hallways showed that the students were excited about being at school.
The principal offered a humble and kind welcome and described the burgeoning partnership P.S. 101 is enjoying with St. John’s University. She spoke of the high level of competence she has observed in the four St. John’s teacher candidates currently working in her school for a full-year internship under the Residential Internship for St. John’s Educators (RISE) program. She noted that these candidates are considered part of the faculty of the school and are testament to the power of a thoughtful clinical practice model.
The next stop in my sojourn was a visit to the classroom of one of the teacher interns, Erika Prevost. She was working with a group of students on a literacy lesson embedded in her language arts curriculum. Prevost gracefully worked with individual students in the context of the greater class, making eye contact, using their names, calmly redirecting, and offering probing questions. Students were engaged as they learned from her the magic of sentences, their meanings, and how they make a story come to life. Although Prevost may have been nervous at having visitors, she did not show any hesitancy in practicing the pedagogy she had learned both at P.S. 101 and in her university course work.
Later, I got to meet with all four teacher candidates, together with the department chair, dean, and the university-based instructor, for a conversation about their experiences at P.S. 101. Jaclyn Morales, Meredith Peterson, and Jane Yang joined Prevost in expressing enthusiasm over the opportunity to share their experiences with us. They spoke highly of the RISE program for what it has provided them. Echoing a sentiment shared by the principal, these interns believe their full year at P.S. 101 (in contrast to a traditional one-semester experience) will make them more marketable after graduation, and certainly well prepared for leading their own classrooms. The program has shaped their confidence, their pedagogical practice, their content preparation, and their ability to take risks within a classroom as they have found their footing.
The interns shared the following lessons they’ve learned in their developing identities as teachers:
- Teaching is a lot of work.
- What candidates bring to the classroom matters.
- It’s OK to make mistakes, own them, and move on.
- The theories they have studied are “real” and inform their work daily.
- They are excited about how much of a difference they can make, every day.
- Their students have become their pride and joy.
- Teaching is their calling, and they are proud to be called teacher.
- Teaching is a team sport!
Over lunch with St. John’s University faculty, I heard them validate much of what we had heard from the students. The faculty are clearly dedicated to the vision of partnership and the aspirations of Dean Sampson to make St. John’s a place where clinical partnerships are simply “how school gets done.” I enjoyed the strong “team” vibe at St. John’s—a feeling that everyone is working together to move profession of education forward.
Indeed, all players in the partnership exhibited that same spirit. The St. John’s professors see themselves as agents of the schools, and the teachers/administrators at P.S. 101 see their role in the education of preservice teachers as essential to high-quality teacher preparation. These factors echo those being explored in the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission, whose mission (in part) is to share these examples of excellence with the rest of the country.
The time I spent at St. John’s University and P.S. 101 reaffirmed my belief that great things are happening throughout our membership. I am thrilled for those lucky students in Queens who benefit from so many collaborating adults focused on their education—and for the teacher candidates who are developing their professional practice in such a supportive environment!