ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An unprecedented overhaul is underway at the University of New Mexico’s College of Education aimed at producing teachers who have both the technical skills and the compassion to help their students succeed in increasingly diverse classrooms in New Mexico.
“One in 68 of their students will have autism. One in five will be an English learner. They will have two with a disability” and they will have several students from different ethnicities and many poor students, Salvador Hector Ochoa, told the Economic Forum on Wednesday. “It is very important that they have a much broader set of skills.”
To do this, the college is revamping its curriculum, intensifying its student teacher training and rolling out a graduate tracking program.
“What triggered (the changes) for us is we would complain, ‘Look the students coming from high schools are not ready,’ and someone would ask, ‘Who is training those students? It’s your graduates,’ ” said UNM Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Chaouki Abdallah.
“I got tired of hearing that, so I asked, ‘Is there something we can do?’ and we discovered there are some things we can do.”
The college, Ochoa said, has three big changes underway.
The school is intensifying its clinical practice, the time when a student teacher takes over a classroom at a public school under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
This school year the college started a grant-funded clinical program in which a full-time faculty member is embedded at a school for facilitation of the student teachers there.
The college has seven locations now, covering about 15 percent of its about 300 student teachers, said Vi Florez, a professor and PNM-endowed chair at the college.
She said the supervision and the college’s effort to get student teachers into high-needs schools – schools with high levels of poverty, a high number of developmentally challenged students, or high number of students for whom English is not their first language – is vital to producing new teachers who don’t wither under difficult social situations.
“They cover some of it in school. People can talk about it, but until you actually witness it and actually have to deal with it, that’s a whole different ballgame,” Florez said. “Knowing how to be a problem-solver, being a teacher that is sensitive and caring and understanding and how to care for that child. Some people panic, so we try to teach our students how to deal with that.”
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said clinical experience in schools with kids with “lots of problems” is one of the top ways to prepare student teachers.
“There is very little evidence that coursework causes anyone to be appreciative of diversity. They need more clinical experience in schools with highly diverse populations as long as those are successful schools,” she said.
Some people, Ochoa said, don’t belong in a classroom, because their dispositions aren’t a fit.
Others, he said, aren’t meeting technical requirements or other standards. He said the college has set up several checkpoints for intervention for students and ultimately for dismissal from the program.
“If they can’t do it under our standards, we shouldn’t put them out there with other people’s kids in a public classroom,” he said.
He praised partnership efforts with Albuquerque Public Schools, including former interim Superintendent Brad Winter and acting Superintendent Raquel Reedy in attendance at the forum meeting.
He also praised cooperative efforts with the state’s Public Education Department, which he said were important in part because they provide important data to measure progress and accountability.
“I’m not data-driven. I’m data-informed,” he said.
When the students move out of the program, the college will track them for two or three years – if they stay and teach somewhere in the state.
Ochoa said a new agreement with the state Public Education Department allows the college to track teacher licensure. The college then sends a detailed survey to the agency that employed the licensed teacher asking for deep feedback on the graduate’s performance.
The school is beginning to receive the first set of surveys, which will be used to assess curriculum, other practices and plans.
Florez said students are being offered additional programs targeting the need in Albuquerque Public Schools for teachers certified in English as a second language and special education.
Walsh said the tracking plan is a best practice for teaching colleges.
“New Mexico is what the United States will be one day in terms of our students’ ethnic diversity,” Ochoa said, and that puts his college in a position to lead the nation in multicultural education.
Ochoa, who came from Texas to take the deanship in July 2014, told the forum that there aren’t other teacher education programs as well-positioned.
And he said the state, like others in the nation, faces a teacher shortage.
“We can’t get them out the door” fast enough, Ochoa said.
He argued that teacher salaries need to be higher to help increase retention.