Would-be teachers learn by observing Experience: Before formal student teaching takes place, TSU juniors get a chance to know children and their learning patterns.


To glimpse what many see as the future of teacher education in America, don't visit your local college campus.

Rather, drive out Reisterstown Road to Owings Mills Elementary, site of one of several "professional development schools" in the metropolitan area. There you'll see 14 Towson State University juniors in what would be a residency - were they studying to be physicians.

Five Towson State education professors come down from the ivory tower to teach the would-be teachers at the Owings Mills school. Four days a week the TSU students, each paired with a veteran Owings Mills teacher, observe, study and, on occasion, take on a solo teaching assignment.

But the formal student teaching won't come until these students' senior year. This year is for study and reflection, getting to know children and their learning patterns, perhaps finding out that teaching isn't the ideal profession they thought it was. They're at Owings Mills, as Towson State student Jason Ferreira put it, "to take it all in."

Said Karyn Duff, a Towson student from Howard County who is paired with fourth-grade teacher Dan Martino, "I've found it's really hard work, and more than once I've been in tears.

"It's possible I won't become a teacher, but every once in a while something happens that makes it wonderful. Like when a girl couldn't wait for me to come in one morning to tell me breathlessly that her mom had had a baby. It was me she was waiting to tell, and that made me feel great."

The professional development school differs markedly from the traditional approach to training teachers, which requires a period of student teaching, usually six weeks to a semester in length, at the end of the senior year.

In the traditional program, students take their "methods" courses - the often-maligned instruction in the methodology of teaching - on campus. Their professors might venture into the schools where they've been placed for practice teaching, but the two cultures - that of the academy and that of the school - remain separate, as though a medical school had no place in a hospital.

"Sadly, the two cultures are almost totally distinct," said Dennis Hinkle, dean of education at Towson State, which also has professional development schools at Cromwell Elementary, Halstead Academy and Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore County and Jessup Elementary in Anne Arundel County.

"The PDS [professional development school] is asking the question, 'Who's responsible for training teachers?' in a different way. If the answer is that it's a village, and I believe it is, then it

takes a much larger group of people than it has in the past."

Owings Mills Elementary is the campus for the TSU students during their junior and senior years. It's a school with an enrollment just more than half African-American. About half of its students qualify for free lunches, and its scores in the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program are closer to the bottom of county schools than to the top.

The school also is crowded - 728 students in perpetual motion packed into a building dating to the 1920s but with several additions and portable buildings. One of those portable buildings, reached by a plywood sidewalk across a muddy field, is the classroom and office for the TSU students.

"The school is the ideal laboratory for a PDS," said Chet Scott, the energetic Owings Mills principal. "This isn't your upper-middle-class school where conditions are ideal. They'll get realistic look at Baltimore County public education right here."

On a typical day recently, the Towson students spent the morning hours in their classrooms, watching, learning, seeing how teachers handled emergencies, how they encouraged good behavior, how they addressed behavior problems.

In the late morning, they repaired to the portable classroom for a lesson on children's literature taught by TSU Professor Lynn Cole. Then it was back to the school library, where the Towson students read the books they were studying in Cole's class to small groups of Owings Mills students.

It's the back and forth between the theory absorbed in the TSU classroom and the immediate practice in the adjacent elementary school that distinguishes the professional development approach from the traditional ways of teacher education, said Scott.

Duff, the TSU student working in the fourth grade, said she already had learned some "hard lessons about teaching. I really like the kids, and as a human being, I want them to like me," she said.

"But Dan says you have to get their respect first. Then, but only then, do you worry about whether they like you. We've had a real clash over that issue."

At 26, Martino is only six years older than Duff, and he has only a couple of years' experience after earning his degree at the University of Pittsburgh. "I've learned that you have to get their respect before you get their love," he said. "Sometimes you have to be mean. Being mean isn't normally a side that's natural for me, but I have to pull that side out so the other side will show."

One day Martino allowed Duff to take the class to an assembly with no other help. In the auditorium, a fight broke out, and Duff said the experience reduced her to tears.

But she said she learned two things, one practical, the other universal: 1. Keep troublemakers separated. 2. Sometimes everything blows up in your face.

"When something like that happens, we talk about it," Martino said. "The nice thing about the professional development school is that when you have an emergency or something goes wrong, you can go two doors away and talk about it. You can make mistakes. You can fail miserably. You're not under the pressure of someone in a traditional student-teaching situation. We were thrown to the dogs. I wish I'd had the experience Karyn is having."

The on-site facilitator of the program is Terry Alban, a 15-year Baltimore County teacher who was chosen over 78 applicants for the job, according to Hinkle, the Towson dean. As a symbol of the county schools-TSU partnership at Owings Mills, each pays half of Alban's salary and that of a second facilitator at two other county schools.

"What we're trying to develop here is a community of learners," Alban said. "The whole school is involved with the PDS in one way or another. The teachers have the expertise. They know the reality of education, but they might not be up to date on the theory. They're like the foot soldiers vs. the generals.

"The other culture - the university - emphasizes scholarship. They're dedicated to an academic field - literacy development, reading theory. They're sharing theoretical grounding, but many of them are isolated from the reality of the classroom. The PDS brings the university closer to the school."

On a recent morning, Alban, notebook in hand, critiqued a lesson conducted by the eldest of the Towson State students, James Rutkowski, 23.

Rutkowski, teaching about letter patterns in rhyming words to 10 first-graders, had a daunting assignment: The presence of a special education aide indicated that some of the pupils had learning disabilities.

Rutkowski did his best - remarkably, without breaking a sweat. On the chalkboard he wrote "bug," "rug," "bun" and "hug" in big print letters. On his knees on the carpet, he tried with some success to get the children to identify the three rhyming words.

Some of the students were inattentive, squirming. Others seemed to understand. Teaching is seldom easy.

At this stage in Rutkowski's education, Alban said afterward, her evaluation would emphasize what went right and not be harshly critical of what went wrong. After all, Rutkowski has more than a year and a half to hone his skills.

And when he's formally evaluated next year, Rutkowski noted, he'll already have had the harrowing experience of an "observation."

Tom Proffitt, assistant dean of education at Towson State who oversees the university's professional development schools, said the idea isn't a new one. Similar programs, often with different arrangements of time and level - undergraduate and graduate - have been launched for years, he said. In the early 1970s, they were called "teacher education centers."

But the analogy between medical and teacher education breaks down when a price tag is affixed. Done right, Proffitt said, the Owings Mills approach costs more than traditional teacher education. Owings Mills, and several other similar programs across Maryland, get extra money from state and federal sources, money that school districts and universities are reluctant to spend.

"The professional development school, to be successful, requires more than the usual personal commitment," Proffitt said. "And if we're to do it with world-class standards, we won't be doing it on the dime on which we're doing it now."

Teacher training

Other colleges and and universities with professional development schools for training teachers in the Baltimore metropolitan area:

College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Bakerfield, Church Creek, Churchville, Halls' Cross Roads, Hillsdale and Roye-Williams elementary schools, Aberdeen High School, Aberdeen Middle School, Harford County.

Contact: Bob McGee, (410) 272-0819

Deer Park and Baltimore Highlands elementary schools, Pikesville Middle School, Franklin High School, Baltimore County.

Contact: Ellen Oberfelder, (410) 486-5193

Coppin State College

Robert Coleman and Commodore John Rodgers elementary schools, Baltimore City.

Contact: Frank Kober, (410) 383-5663

Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies

Swansfield and Pointers Run elementary schools, Howard County.

Edgemere Elementary, Sparrows Point middle and high schools, Baltimore County.

Contact: Ralph Fessler, (410) 516-6113

Loyola College of Maryland:

Battle Grove Elementary School, Loch Raven High School, Baltimore County.

Rockburn Elementary School, Howard County.

Contact: Robert Peters or Peggy Golden, (410) 617-2998

Morgan State University:

Harford Heights Elementary School and Northern High School, Baltimore City.

Contact: Patricia Morris, (410) 319-3385

University of Maryland Baltimore County:

Canton Middle School, Baltimore City

Contact: Sue E. Small, (410) 455-2305

University of Maryland College Park:

Bollman Bridge, Elkridge and Waterloo elementary schools, Elkridge Landing Middle School, Long Reach High School, Howard County.

Contact: Eva Garin, (410) 313-6878

Pub Date: 12/08/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad