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MSU Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Gets Powerful Redesign

A second-grade teacher uses a white board to teach both her in-class and online students at Wesley Elementary School.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

This article originally appeared in MSUToday and is reprinted with permission.

Students interested in becoming elementary teachers now have an exciting new pathway at Michigan State University.

Faculty in the nationally known MSU College of Education have redesigned the elementary Teacher Preparation Program to not only address changes in how Michigan certifies new teachers, but to ensure that Spartan educators are even better prepared to meet the challenges of today’s schools.

“It is important that we continue to evolve as a teacher preparation program to reflect changing times,” said Tonya Bartell, associate professor and associate director of elementary programs. “This means preparing high-quality beginning teachers ready to serve our nation’s diverse student population, including teaching English learners and students with disabilities, and serving as agents of change toward equity and social justice.”

MSU’s new elementary teacher education program will be submitted to the Michigan Department of Education for approval in the coming months. Students who entered the program during 2020-21 are the first expected to follow the changes. A redesign of the secondary teacher education program is also in progress.

New certification options

Students planning to become elementary teachers in Michigan can now obtain certification in one of two grade bands:

  • PreK through 3rd grade
  • 3rd through 6th grade

These grade bands, established by the state education department, will help future teachers gain a deeper understanding of child development and learning within a narrow span of grades. Students will take an integrated course of study focused on content: literacy, math, science and social studies.

In the MSU program, candidates will choose one of these two grade bands and then choose an additional teaching endorsement in one of three areas that are critically needed in schools, both in Michigan and nationally:

  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
  • Birth-K (for those pursuing PK-3)
  • Special Education (Learning Disabilities)*

These three endorsement options were selected at MSU to help ensure teachers are ready to support a wider range of diverse learners, based on abilities, languages and other factors.

Setting a new standard for social justice

In addition, future Spartan elementary teachers will focus even more explicitly on developing dispositions and skills needed to support equity and social justice.

Rather than taking just one semester of TE 250, a long-standing course focused on helping future teachers explore diversity and equity issues in schools, they will now have a one-year learning experience consisting of two new courses, TE 101 and TE 102. They also will take four new one-credit seminars all focused on social justice during their third and fourth years in the program.

“It’s good that MSU is breaking down these topics in depth like this — some students could look at it as one course to get over with,” said Rylee Feliczak, a sophomore who selected the PreK-3 grade band and Special Education.

“Personally, I’m really glad I took TE 101 and 102 the first two semesters because it set the basis for all my future classes. I think it’s important to show and talk to young kids about the many different races and types of people, to bring these things up instead of pushing them away from the things I will be teaching.”

In addition to new course requirements related to equity in education, MSU will continue offering two specialized cohort programs. Students in the Urban Educators and Global Educators cohort programs experience courses and activities together focused on preparing them to teach in urban communities and/or with international and multicultural perspectives.

Continuing — and evolving — commitments

Many of the core tenets of MSU’s well-regarded Teacher Preparation Program remain, such as early and continuous field experiences in classrooms that culminate with a teaching internship, and comprehensive partnerships with schools and communities across Michigan, as well as in Chicago.

However, faculty members and leaders are looking for new ways to reduce the burdens of becoming a teacher. They are committed to creating flexible pathways to certification that address not only financial costs, but also costs associated with time commitment, mental health and more.

They are also committed to immersing teacher candidates in the community in which they will spend their final years of formal preparation for teaching careers.

For these reasons, starting this school year, MSU is launching a residency initiative with some of its partner school districts. These districts provide opportunities for students in the final year of the program to serve as paid substitute teachers during their internship year, identify low-cost housing for interns within the community, and require deeper engagement by candidates with the community. The districts have also agreed to hire those who successfully complete the program. During the 2021-22 school year, residency programs will take place in Detroit and Eastpointe.

These partnerships are expected to expand so that future teachers have more options to pursue their chosen career with less time and financial strain. Further changes to the curriculum and program requirements are being considered.

“The current redesign efforts of both our elementary and secondary teacher preparation programs have quality, accessibility and teaching opportunities at their center,” said Gail Richmond, director of Teacher Preparation Programs. “We will continue to explore potential changes that reduce financial burdens, increase the diversity of the teaching force and maintain the long-standing quality of the program.”

*By choosing Special Education, students will become certified to teach both their selected band of elementary grades as well as special education for grades through K-12. These students receive their bachelor’s degree in Special Education instead of Elementary Education.

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