Assignment: teaching


Woodrow Wilson program to graduate first cohort in December

“It’s for real: After 14 years of living the dream as a working journalist, I am making the move to teaching. I’ve accepted a teaching fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which capped months of hard work: essays, applications, tests, and interviews. The transformation ahead undoubtedly will be exciting, challenging, and full of surprises.”

The few. The proud. The Teaching Fellows

He was a U.S. Marine Corps captain who once taught English as a second language to schoolchildren in Morocco, a former small-town reporter in Oregon, and an editor in California before arriving at the Indianapolis Star in 2002.

Keith Manring had been there, done that, but he hadn’t tried to teach science to high school students.

Manring wrote the blog entry above in April 2009 as he joined 19 others at UIndy in its first group of Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellows, one of only three statewide (the others are at Purdue University and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis; a fourth is starting at Ball State University this fall).

This ambitious initiative of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, launched here in Indiana, is designed to recruit math and science grads into the teaching profession and prepare them with essential skills and support to work in urban and rural schools where the need is greatest.

Learning the same way they’ll be teaching

UIndy’s program is heavily oriented toward project-based learning. The teacher candidates learn in the same way they are expected to teach—via hands-on experiences connected to real-world issues and events.

One recruit opted out during orientation; another left as the program and its demands accelerated to full speed. But Manring and 17 others immersed themselves in the dizzying combination of coursework and field practice, with extensive support from UIndy faculty and mentor teachers.

Manring’s group included a microbiologist who had studied yellow fever; an industrial engineer; a respiratory therapist; a quality control analyst;
a professional violinist and former lab technician-turned-PTA mom; an entomologist and beekeeper; and some
new college grads.

Manring opted to change careers so he could be “at the forefront of the fight to make our society better.”

As their student teaching wound down this past spring, three Fellows had job offers, and many were close.

“The immersion piece has really helped them to feel like they’re ready to teach,” notes Deb Sachs, clinical and mentoring coordinator for UIndy’s Woodrow Wilson program.

“They’ve already experienced many of the frustrations and angst—and the incredible rewards—of being a first-year teacher. Not just the classroom, but also the parent conferences, lesson planning, learning how the school operates, and all the attendant aspects of becoming a teacher.”

Jennifer Drake, UIndy program director, notes that teachers who’ve been working with the Fellows call them quick studies who are “well on their way to being excellent teachers.”

Learning what teaching really means

School officials in Decatur Township believe an important advantage of UIndy’s program is that the Fellows have a much more realistic idea of what being a teacher actually means.

The first year was not without its road bumps, Drake and Sachs say, given that there was no map to follow; the program had to be developed from the ground up. For the new cohort just arriving, the schedule of coursework and clinical visits has been streamlined to make logistics easier and syllabi pruned to eliminate some redundancies.

The mentoring program has been refined, and the third year will be shaped around each Fellow’s person- alized professional development plans.

These will be as varied as their interests—getting involved in state and national policy discussions, developing an action research project to improve their students’ learning, or participating in national conferences on urban education or in their content area, for example.

One thing is certain, Drake says. “They’re in for a great experience. We consider our program second to none.”

Facts of the Fellowship

The Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellowship was established to improve K-12 educational out-comes and stimulate career interest in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math.

Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend and agree to teach for three years in an urban or rural school.

Indiana was the first state chosen by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for the program, thanks to gubernatorial support and $10.2 million in funding from Lilly Endowment.

UIndy is among four institutions participating in the foundation’s Indiana Teaching Fellowship, the pilot for a national program that also is aimed at recruiting teachers for high-need schools.

UIndy’s program is unique in its focus on project-based learning. Its Fellows have been paired with accomplished teachers in the city’s Decatur and Wayne townships to benefit from their clinical experience and mentoring. Next year, Arsenal Technical High School will become a clinical site.

In addition to their own lesson planning and teaching, Fellows observe in a variety of city classrooms, including charter schools.

State and University evaluations will monitor the impact of Fellows on student learning and the Fellows’ retention as teachers after their three-year commitment has ended.

The goal of having the most challenging early years of teaching under the Fellows’ belts lowers the risk of these skilled teachers leaving the profession. Mentoring continues during their first three years.