KOKOMO, Ind. — As far as the fifth graders in Cordell Ford’s Suncrest Elementary School classroom are concerned, he’s just Mr. Ford — their teacher.
However, Ford is actually a student teacher, one of six from the Indiana University Kokomo School of Education participating in a pilot teacher residency project. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education grant program extends student teaching from a semester to a school year.
This allows the students to experience a full year, from beginning to end, while giving school leaders a chance to see future teachers in action, and potentially have the first chance to hire them after graduation — a critical advantage during a teacher shortage.
“I love that my mentor teacher refers to the students as ‘our students’ when we plan,” said Ford, from Frankfort. “It already feels like they are my students. I’m already teaching lessons, so when second semester comes and I’m teaching all day by myself, it’s going to be like second nature.”
He’s one of four students placed in the Frankfort Community Schools, which, along with the Maconaquah School Corp. in Bunker Hill, received the grant funding. Maconaquah has two student teachers through the program.
The School of Education partnered with the two schools for the grant, which provides a $15,000 stipend for the student teachers. This allows them to concentrate on school, rather than outside employment.
“Teacher residency gives our students a chance to experience first-hand a complete school year, to see what it’s like to start with a new group of students, see their growth through the year, and then complete the year with them and prepare them to move to the next grade,” said Dean Leah Nellis. “For the schools, which have had difficulty finding qualified candidates for job openings in the last few years, it’s an opportunity to spend a year growing a teacher, and preparing him or her to step right into one of their classrooms next school year. It benefits everyone involved.”
At Frankfort, Jen Walton, director of student achievement, said the pre-service teachers gain valuable mentoring from some of their best teachers.
“The residency honors that teaching is a craft. There is an art to it,” she said. “It’s an apprenticeship, teaching for a longer period, learning at the side of a master teacher. It’s just invaluable to be able to provide that. It’s such a great part of the model here.”
In addition to Ford, students participating at Frankfort include Tayler Henry, Tipton; Carly Disinger, Rossville, and Shawna McDaniel, Frankfort. Kassie Silvers, Peru; and Claire Slater, Galveston, are student teaching at Maconaquah.
Silvers, who is teaching geometry, likes the experience of teaching for an entire school year, even if she will spend the first semester balancing 15 credit hours of classes with teaching.
“I’m seeing my confidence grow as a teacher,” Silver said. “The students are more comfortable with me, because we’ve been able to build a relationship. They actually view me as their teacher, not a student teacher who will go away in the near future.”
She gained experience in flexibility, as Maconaquah High School switched to two weeks of virtual instruction early in the year, because of a COVID-19 exposure.
“It was interesting to see how the teachers and students were affected by it,” she said. “We were pretty stressed for those two weeks. It gave me a good perspective on it and experience that will benefit me when I’m looking for my first teaching job.”
Maconaquah Superintendent James Callane said the students are getting a unique experience by teaching during the pandemic.
“They are teaching in person with students, but also connecting with remote learners,” Callane said. “At any moment, a class could shut down and they would have to shift gears to remote learning. They have this year to really hone that craft.”
Also, it provides the opportunity for both the student teacher and the school to consider if they are a good fit, in case of an opening the next school year, he said.
“It allows us to spend more time with this future teacher, in a time that teachers are hard to find,” he said. “We can work with them during the year, provide development, and have them ready potentially to teach with us next year.”