Reforming teacher education: Project ASPIRE leads the way in Ohio
Math major Zack Patterson tutored minority students while earning his bachelor’s degree at Ohio State.
His most rewarding experiences were when tutees thanked him for helping them do well.
“I remember tutoring two students in two notoriously hard Calculus courses,” Patterson said. “They called me at the end of the quarter, so excited that they had done well. It was rewarding to realize that I was making a positive difference in students’ lives in only four hours a week.”
He thought about how much more he could do by becoming a full-time teacher.
Inspired by his success, Patterson applied to the college’s Project ASPIRE. The Master of Education degree program prepares students with bachelor’s degrees to teach math, science or foreign language in urban schools.
As a partnership between the college and Columbus City Schools, Project ASPIRE leads the reform of teacher education in Ohio.
ASPIRE: Cutting edge in three key ways
The first cadre of ASPIRE interns spent a full year in their preparation, from June to June. All graduated and have jobs in urban schools, eight of them in Columbus City Schools (CCS).
The rigorous experience called for courses in teaching pedagogy and content knowledge. It also called for student teaching, all as expected in a regular MEd program.
The critical differences were:
- The yearlong Urban Teaching Seminar, planned and taught by faculty experts in multicultural education
- A full year of hands-on experience in the urban classrooms of Columbus City Schools working under master teachers
- A yearlong seminar on mentoring for master teachers to hone their skills
Audra Slocum, director of teacher education and residency, explains that the Urban Teaching Seminar is focused on unpacking the myths about students in urban school systems.
“The faculty and I guide the ASPIRE interns in examining their own gender, race and cultural origins,” she says. “Then they explore their students and students’ communities, so they have a deeper knowledge of the cultural forces that shapes urban students’ lives. They understand the strengths that outsiders do not see.”
With this in-depth knowledge, ASPIRE interns learn to build bridges in their teaching. They show they care by linking students’ lives, their communities and school. When students feel understood, trust develops, which is essential to learning.
A year of hands-on experience in urban classrooms
Now a math teacher at Dominion Middle School, Patterson looks back on the year that he and his fellow ASPIRE interns spent in Columbus City Schools. “If I hadn’t had ASPIRE, I would have felt less confident going into the 2011 school year,” he says.
Patterson spent two quarters working with Christine Hecht, his mentor and a teacher of 10th-grade geometry at Marion Franklin High School.
“I admire and learned from her ability to connect with a wide range of students,” he says. “I also appreciate that she was receptive to my ideas and valued having me in the classroom.”
He spent another quarter teaching advanced math to sixth graders with Jada Jackson, his mentor teacher at Dominion Middle School. “My experience with her was exceptional. I loved the school and was so excited when I was hired,” he says.
Patterson found the research-based theory and strategies from the urban seminar, coupled with the urban teaching, critical to gaining his students’ trust.
“Some urban students have serious adversity in their lives,” he says. “If they are worrying while in class about their next meal or where they will be sleeping that night, teachers must make their content as relevant and engaging as possible. It takes planning and creativity.”
Patterson, like all ASPIRE graduates, committed to three years of teaching at an urban school.
“Thanks to ASPIRE, I have the mindset of an urban teacher: I set high expectations and show students that I care,” he says. ” I feel I’m not really going in as a new teacher.”
Mentor teachers hone their skills for a full year
When Chad Smith, a 14-year veteran teacher with Columbus City Schools, heard about the chance to refine his student teacher mentoring skills through Project ASPIRE, he seized it.
With a French teaching endorsement and an MA in Foreign and Second Language Education from the college, he knew he wanted to engage with his alma mater again.
“In my years with the district, ASPIRE is the best professional development I’ve seen that’s completely focused on urban education and molded to help interns succeed in our district. If you’re willing to work hard, you can have a terrific career at CCS. I want them to stay.”
Last autumn, Smith welcomed ASPIRE intern Katie Kimnach to Centennial High School, where he is now in his eighth year of teaching Spanish. He appreciates that ASPIRE requires interns to spend extended time in the classroom.
“Before Katie took over the class, she had time to establish a relationship with the students. They saw her not just as a student teacher, but as a co-teacher. They felt comfortable asking her for help.”
In addition, Smith was pleased that Kimnach brought a new perspective from her extensive time spent traveling and studying in Argentina and Brazil. Smith’s Spanish language knowledge came from Spain and Mexico.
“Together, we brought the students a more balanced, global linguistic perspective about the Spanish-speaking culture,” he says.
Smith found the yearlong ASPIRE mentoring seminar to be reinvigorating. “I appreciated the chance to talk to my peers about how to support our interns. In the past, I was focused on the student teacher’s teaching behavior. The seminar let me make a huge paradigm shift to focus on student learning. In a traditional student-teaching situation, we don’t have time.”
This year, Kimnach now teaches Spanish at Johnson Park Middle School in west Columbus, and Smith continues as an ASPIRE mentor teacher. Please with his experience in ASPIRE, he welcomed new ASPIRE intern Erica Gonzalez to his classroom at the start of the 2011 school year.
Sandra Stroot, principal investigator of Project ASPIRE, says, “Stories such as these shared by our ASPIRE participants are the result of strong partnerships among the district, the teachers association and the university where we all focus on the needs of children and how we help them be successful in their school setting. A strong collaborative partnership is crucial to our success and provides a soild foundation on which to continue this work.”
You may Read about the initial Project ASPIRE grant award here.
Writer: Janet Ciccone, Office of Advancement, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University