By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
“GCU, GCU, GCU’’ chant the children in the halls of Westwood Elementary School as they see Grand Canyon University resident teachers pass by. They are excited to see the aspiring teachers, and that emotion is matched by the Lopes who are gaining invaluable experience by learning to teach and practicing their craft at the neighborhood school on 23rd Avenue, just south of Camelback Road.
While some teacher residency programs are designed for students with bachelor’s degrees or in master's degree programs who are seeking teaching licensure, the second-year program from GCU's College of Education is for undergraduates before their full-time, full semester student teaching requirement.
The resident teachers are usually sophomores, juniors and first-semester seniors who enroll in Assistant Professor Jena Akard’s Instructional Methodologies classes in Math, Science and Social Studies. She teaches on Monday and Wednesday in two classrooms Westwood has designated for GCU’s use, and her students are the teachers on Friday, pairing up in teams to take over segments of the pre-kindergarten through third grade classes taught by the veteran teachers at Westwood.
The reasoning behind it is practical.
“Doctors go in and work side-by-side with doctors; why can’t we do that with teachers?’’ Akard asked rhetorically. “Let’s give them that practice, hands on. Waiting until student teaching is great, but there’s a lot going on with student teaching, so to scaffold that we start with one lesson, then more lessons, then teaching the class for half-a-day, then teaching all day. We’re gradually raising the bar.’’
In a recent lesson, the Westwood students studied bugs and insects, learning about the camouflaging effects of different climates and terrain, including rain forest, desert and snow. They drew and colored the variations.
“The kids could tell you what they were doing, why they were doing it and how they were doing it,’’ Akard said.
When a Westwood teacher discovered that a GCU student did not get an opportunity to teach, she was invited into her classroom to take the reins on short notice. Thinking quickly, the GCU student taught a lesson – to a new group of students -- that she had observed a few days earlier.
“My students are willing to learn all these things, find videos to support it, and create a lesson that will engage and help students learn,’’ Akard said.
Eighty GCU students are in the program, which started onsite Sept. 5, the second week of the semester. Following four classes of instruction, the resident teachers observed the Westwood teachers and their students in various classrooms on Sept. 14. As of Friday, most resident teachers have been completely in charge of teaching at least four lessons. In several cases, lessons are taught in a team teaching style with as few as two in tandem and as many as seven.
The Westwood teachers are generously on board with allowing GCU students to take over, which in many cases can mean more work for them since they need to share the scope and sequence curriculum needed by their students, along with the desired methods of interaction for intended outcomes. In addition to helping the Lopes get up to speed on exactly what knowledge and skills need to be emphasized at various points, they willingly share specific information on the progress and personality of each student so the resident teachers can personalize lessons more effectively to interact with various students.
“We have to maintain the standards that the teachers have identified and then make sure that we meet the needs of the students,’’ Akard said.
Along with Akard, who moves from classroom to classroom observing and evaluating her resident teachers, the veteran Westwood teachers provide feedback. According to Akard, they usually start with a compliment, and then they say, “Have you considered X, Y and Z?’’ The question opens up other possibilities, including alternative engagement strategies that facilitate learning.
“I get the opportunity to do the same thing,’’ Akard said. “This week, we talked about midpoint mini-lessons. When a resident teacher sees that their class is not getting it. They need to stop everybody, regroup, re-teach and get them going again. Or they might have a student who thought of something completely different that the adult never even thought of, so let’s highlight that learner.’’
As the semester progresses, Akard is struck by the growing relationships all around her:
“The relationships I get to have with my students, the relationship the GCU students get to have with the Westwood students and the relationships the GCU students have with the Westwood teachers, even the relationships developing with the principal (Theresa Killingsworth). She comes in and gives compliments and asks questions when she observes. It is an amazing experience.’’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].