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Student teaching adapts to changes in education

Student teacher Cristen Coffey walks with her third grade students gym class Polk Elementary School Lake StatiInd. Wednesday December 12

Student teacher Cristen Coffey walks with her third grade students to gym class at Polk Elementary School in Lake Station, Ind. Wednesday December 12, 2012. Coffey, of Portage, is a student teacher from Indiana University Northwest. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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A third-grader rushes up to Cristen Coffey to share her work, and Coffey hugs her and offers encouragement.

Coffey, 25, has been student teaching at Polk Elementary in Lake Station since October and she’s more confident than ever that she’s made the right career choice.

Many others are not so sure.

Statewide, applications to teacher colleges hit their lowest level in five years this year. They’re down 32 percent at Ball State University, 23 percent at Purdue in West Lafayette and 20 percent at Indiana University Bloomington.

Many blame a wave of education reforms ushered through the Republican-dominated General Assembly in 2011.

“It takes a determined person to go through all this,” Coffey said.

While the goal of the reforms is to improve accountability, many teachers feel like they’ve become scapegoats for failing schools.

A new annual teacher evaluation requirement links teacher pay to student performance. Schools are adopting models now to evaluate teachers.

The high-stakes evaluations are prompting many teachers to refuse taking on a student teacher, a time-honored collaborative practice for educators and rookie teachers.

“Teachers are much more concerned about turning their classroom over to someone for 16 weeks,” said Cynthia Robinson, an associate professor of education and head of Purdue University Calumet’s Department of Teacher Preparation.

David Malik, vice chancellor of academic affairs at IUN, said the reduced number of IUN applications may be attributed to the new laws, but it’s difficult to tell. “I’ll have a better idea next fall,” he said.

Linda Halas, principal at Polk Elementary, has noticed the reluctance, too.

“Teachers are afraid their scores would go down,” she said. Halas said in the past, the host teacher would step out of the classroom and give the reins to the student teacher.

Not anymore.

Now, colleges are instituting co-teaching models that essentially keep the host teacher in the room most of the time.

Robinson said PUC is piloting a co-teaching program with about 10 student teachers in the spring semester. In the fall, all their student teachers will be co-teaching.

“The response from teachers in schools has been outstanding and school superintendents are excited about it, as well,” Robinson said.

Coffey came to the end of her student teaching job at Polk Elementary last month. Now, she needs to take a couple more classes at Indiana University Northwest to received her diploma. She’s hoping to have a teaching job in August.

“I’ll apply wherever I can, but I’d like to stay in the area,” she said.

Coffey says she loves teaching, but not the never-ending political pull that surrounds it. “I think students are over-tested. We’re teaching them how to take a test. Outside these walls, how are they supposed to learn things?”

Cindy DeVaney, a student teaching supervisor at IUN, has been observing Coffey during the semester.

“She’ll be real good. She’s a natural. She’s got a lot of confidence. I’ve got 12 student teachers right now and confidence is the name of the game.”



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