“The year-long internship made me much more confident as a first year teacher,” said Meredith Maestri, a novice teacher at Alma Intermediate School. Jim Warnock, principal added, “Parents were sure Miss Maestri had teaching experience. They were surprised to learn that she was a first year teacher.”
Alma Intermediate School is one of several schools partnering with the University of Arkansas Fort Smith in an effort to increase the confidence and effectiveness of novice teachers by adding a year-long internship option for selected students in the elementary education program. Early indicators are that this program is improving teaching skills of the interns, as well as confidence levels. Principal Jim Warnock interviewed interns, mentor teachers, and students, to gage the benefits and challenges of the program halfway through the second year. During the pilot year (2011-12) the first two year-long interns were placed on campus with two more being placed this year.
Early signs are that year-long internships are beneficial for the teacher candidates and the students in the school. Interns and mentor teachers stated that the year-long internship allows teaching candidates to build strong relationships with staff, students, and families. Dawn Stewart, mentor teacher said, “It helps interns to build a stronger relationship with students because they see them throughout the school year. They see that growth along a continuum throughout the year.”
Interns also benefit from collaborative times built into the school day such as grade-level meetings and subject area sessions. When teachers are involved in professional development, their interns are involved as well and contribute as any other staff member would. Mentor teacher, Emily Baldwin said, “The interns have a better understanding of the curriculum because they’ve worked with it from August to May.” Another mentor teacher, Shea Klomp added, “They also know what it takes to establish classroom procedures and culture because they are here in August and see how this impacts learning throughout the year. “
The teacher candidates gain confidence through the year-long association with the same school. Samantha Lopez said, “There’s a sense of great confidence that you receive as a year-long intern because you know your classroom, you know your mentor teacher, and how your school is run and the procedures of your mentor teacher.”
To pilot the year-long internship, the university provided dual programs with most continuing in semester internships while allowing interns to apply for the year-long path. During the spring prior to their internship teacher candidates are interviewed by participating school principals. The principals view this with seriousness due to the year-long commitment. Jim Warnock said, “Being on campus all year, an intern will have a great impact on our students and teachers so we want to be sure that the impact is positive. The interview is a time for the intern to see our values and philosophy as well as for us to determine whether or not we want that intern to be a part of our staff.”
Interns develop a high level of commitment to the academic growth of their students due to the longer time commitment. University staff have seen evidence of instructional growth among interns due to the greater depth of collaborative learning with grade-level and subject area teachers in the host school. They have seen year-long interns using deeper language about teaching and learning due to this close work with host educators. Mentor teachers and interns are trained in co-teaching strategies to take advantage of having an extra instructor in the classroom.
Moving to a year-long internship has required that the university make adjustments in the Block II courses which were traditionally taught during the semester prior to a traditional single semester internship. These courses are scheduled during blocked times on Monday and Wednesday so that interns may work with their supervising teachers on Tuesday and Thursday. During the second semester interns are at the host school every day.
Some alignment issues revealed themselves as interns applied new teaching skills at an accelerated rate from previous years. Some theory and content had to be taught earlier in the first semester to accommodate year-long interns who were actively practicing strategies much earlier than in the past. UAFS is adjusting other aspects of the internship based on input from participants and partner schools.
A fourth grade student who has experienced both semester and year-long interns said, “I like having an intern all year because she is able to help us, especially when the teacher is busy with someone else. She knows us better, too. Our intern worked with us during math and literacy stations and in writing workshop.” Without exception, students who’ve experienced both options said that they preferred having an intern all year long.
Based on preliminary evidence, year-long internships are something that Alma Intermediate School wants to continue. The partnership between the University of Arkansas Fort Smith and Alma Intermediate School will continue to grow and develop as input is gathered from interns, mentor teachers, students and university staff. One educator said, “Based on what I’m seeing, I would not want to go back to single semester internships. Our year-long interns are prepared to hit the ground running their first year and have deeper professional relationships that will help them grow as a teacher.”
This was written from interviews as well as content pulled from the presentation of several participants during this year’s Professional Development Schools Conference.
Alma Intermediate School: Emily Baldwin, Paige Brazil, Jo Ann Jordan, Shea Klomp, Meredith Maestri, Dawn Stewart, Jim Warnock
Interns: Samantha Lopez, Dorothy Boyd
University of Arkansas Fort Smith School of Education: Barbara Hunt, Deebe Milford, Laura Witherington