Current Issue

A new way of teaching

Nationally, approximately one third of new teachers leave the profession after three years, and urban schools see most of this rapid turnover. Teachers in urban schools are chased out by challenges like poverty, crowded classrooms and low pay.

But, DU is trying to help. The University’s College of Education has partnered with the Boettcher Foundation, the Public Education & Business Coalition, the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning and the Adams 12 Five Star and Mapleton school districts in order to prepare high-quality teachers to work in an urban setting.

With nearly $5 million in funding committed by the Boettcher Foundation over the next five years, the Boettcher Teachers Program began in fall 2004. The program provides full scholarships to 12 Boettcher Fellows who, over the next two years, will earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from DU with an emphasis in urban education. The scholarship is contingent upon the fellows’ continuing to teach for three years in a high-need school. By 2006-07, 20 fellows will be admitted to the program annually.

“One main reason teachers leave, especially in urban schools, is because of lack of support and leadership from administration and other teachers,” explains program Director Beth Dorman. In order to prepare teachers who are less likely to burn out, she says, the Boettcher program provides a combination of graduate-level coursework, first-hand teaching experience and mentoring relationships with veteran teachers.

In the first year of the program, Boettcher Fellows are mentored by an experienced teacher, with whom they co-teach. In their second year as graduate students, the fellows work as full-time, paid teachers, and they continue their classroom instruction and mentoring relationships.

The Boettcher Program is firmly grounded on the belief that every child can learn and achieve at a high level, notes College of Education Dean Ginger Maloney. To help their students achieve, fellows are taught to use engaging teaching methods that focus on discussion and problem solving rather than lectures. To further improve student learning, they employ alternative classroom setups where, for example, desks may be grouped together or face one another rather than being lined up in traditional forward-facing rows.

“It’s invaluable to be getting first-hand experience at the same time we’re learning theory that applies to what we’re doing,” says Boettcher Fellow Kim Sanchez-Cawthorn, who is teaching Spanish at Thornton High School.

The coursework and hands-on experience make for a rigorous program. During the first year, fellows work in the classroom three to four days a week in addition to being full-time students themselves. “It’s really, really intense,” Dorman says.

At the completion of their degree and apprenticeship, the fellows will begin fulfilling their three-year teaching commitments.

While the program benefits its fellows, it also is designed to effect positive change in the schools where the fellows are teaching. “We hope the kids will be the real beneficiaries of this program,” Maloney says. “Preparing great teachers for these kids means they will have opportunities in the future that they wouldn’t have had without a quality education.”

Because the Boettcher Program curriculum has been designed in partnership with school districts and other organizations, fellows experience a unique and relevant blend of theory and practical experience, Maloney adds. The partnership also provides an opportunity for the College of Education to become deeply engaged in the critical issues being faced by metro Denver schools.

“There are no silver bullets to fix our urban public schools,” Maloney says. “School reform takes the concerted and sustained efforts of all of us, and the Boettcher Teachers Program is a cutting edge example of a community collaboration that will make a real difference for kids.”

Comments are closed.