Weighing Gains and Losses in Embedded Clinical Experience

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April Showers from the Methods Classroom

Each April, I feel an overwhelming need to examine the school year and my role within it.  Were the curricular decisions I made last April and May fruitful? Were there more gains than losses? How might I make adjustments based on the performance and feedback of the students I have in my classroom now while reserving some flexibility to meet the needs of student I have not yet met?

Each week, I teach secondary English education methods I and II courses in a classroom reserved for us in a local high school.  My schedule this semester has class starting at 9:00 with writing, reading, and discussion around professional texts and practices.  Some weeks, candidates are workshopping or demonstrating lessons. Other weeks, we explore technology implementation or lesson adaptations. Every week, candidates spend time in their mentor teachers’ classrooms during our scheduled class.

History of Field Experiences

Prior to January 2018, the secondary English education candidates were placed in various schools for field experience “micro-teaching” based on school and mentor teacher availability.  It was then up to the candidate in collaboration with the teacher to coordinate observation hours and micro-teaching lessons.  The micro-teaching coordinator would then observe candidates toward the latter part of the semester using the same observation instruments designed for student teachers.  These relationships with mentor teachers and small opportunities to teach were designed to prepare candidates for student teaching.  One problem with this format was the lack of regulated field experience hours throughout the semester.  It was not uncommon for candidates to schedule a vacation week from work in order to “get their hours in” for observations, creating challenges for tying theory to practice in the methods class each week.  Candidates also had wide-ranging experiences with school culture, which created another set of challenges.

Rationale for Embedded Experiences

I set out on a mission for secondary English education program candidates to have the same high school field experience placements for us to have common conversations around culture, routines, and expectations. Through conversations with high school administration, we were able to access much more. With a classroom within the high school we could become part of the culture.  In January 2018, we became the class that met at the high school most weeks.  It was a location and not much more.  By the end of the semester, however, the high school administrator and I agreed that we were on the edge of incredible possibilities.  Together, we planned essential experiences for the incoming cohort.

Embedded Clinical Experience

Embedded within the 9:00-1:00 class time are field experience hours during which candidates observe and assist in mentor teachers’ classrooms.  Before leaving the methods classroom at 10:40, I prompt candidates with “look fors” or focus questions to frame their observations.  Yesterday, we discussed professional organizations and networking, so candidates were to ask mentor teachers about the professional organizations they would recommend.  This 2-hour time period also has candidates coming in and out of the methods classroom during the 25-minute lunch rotations.  These minutes provide time for one-on-one or small group conversations about assignments, updates on progress, or observation frame responses on the backchannel.

The schedule each semester changes slightly based on candidate feedback and administrator/instructor reflections and discussion.  Overall, the high school location has afforded us with these experiences:

  • High school teacher presentation of learning management system during her planning period
  • Data warehouse overview with test question analysis led by high school administrator
  • Mentor teacher feedback on unit plans after early dismissal at high school
  • Students from mentor teacher’s classroom serving as “shark tank” panel feedback on candidates’ unit ideas
  • Access to school psychologist for guest speaking arrangement
  • Consistent interactions with front desk and hallway security
  • High school administrator access – question/answer sessions during methods classes (at least twice per semester)
  • Weekly conversations tied directly to readings and school events

Methods Curriculum Challenges 

As an aside, this is the third spring semester that Pose, Wobble, Flow has been a cornerstone text for my Methods II course.  The first semester, candidates pushed back – hard. They resisted the discussion about privilege, seeing work and opportunity as something they created for themselves and that students can also achieve.  The second year, which was the first spring of clinical immersion, candidates thoughtfully considered the text as a useful resource.  My third cohort of candidates — the first cohort who has been in the high school setting an entire year — pushed back on this text but for different reasons.  They are living and breathing the challenges outlined by Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen.  They want more — the nuts and bolts of how to implement best practices for cultural responsiveness because they already know the theories.

Candidate Sacrifices

Some candidates have made tremendous sacrifices to take this daytime, once-weekly class during the fall and spring semesters — quitting full-time jobs with benefits, substitute teaching for only four days instead of five, having to take off work one day per week, not being able to work evenings because of other classes.  Their sacrifices are leaps of faith in the university program, in the high school experience, and in me.  And this is where I land at the beginning of May  — with fear, trepidation, anxiety — wondering if I am asking my candidates to sacrifice too much on their pathway to becoming teachers. Are the future gains for candidates worth their struggles now? Is there anything the university or district do to mitigate some of these losses?

As we plan for the next cohort, these questions are at the forefront.  What have other universities, districts, or state boards done to provide meaningful teacher preparation while assisting candidates in hurdling the most costly obstacles?