Kellery Divilbiss wasn’t sure what to expect of her student-teaching experience. All she knew before starting her first day was that she was “definitely nervous.”
Fortunately for her, Divilbiss was placed in Kelsey Harris’s classroom at Salem’s Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Harris put her at ease right away, getting Divilbiss to help set up the second-grade room before the student even arrived to start the school year. “It’s all about having that trust,” Harris says.
Once school started, Harris gradually gave Divilbiss more and more responsibility, coaching her on everything from lesson planning to strategies for engaging squirrelly students—techniques that were simple yet effective, such as displaying visual cutes or singing songs to make routines more fun.
“I learned so much,” says Divilbiss, who went on to get a job alongside Harris and just completed her first year at Chavez. “I always knew it wasn’t going to be an easy job, but I didn’t think it would be this hard!”
The Salem-Keizer School District partners with Chalkboard’s TeachOregon initiative to provide more relevant clinical experiences for college students in the last stages of their training to become teachers. The Salem-Keizer Teacher Preparation Collaborative works closely with partner universities Western Oregon and Corban. The program has trained a select group of outstanding cooperating teachers to mentor novice teachers so they can hit the ground running when they start their first jobs.
Harris got involved as a cooperating teacher with the Collaborative because she wanted up-and-coming teachers to get the interactive experience she wishes she’d gotten as a teacher candidate.
“The teachers would have me watch them, then it would be my turn,” Harris says. “There wasn’t much going on in-between. I remember thinking, ‘When am I going to learn to get better?’”
In that old “sink or swim” model, teacher candidates would observe passively for some weeks, then given charge of a classroom. The supervising teachers received little or no training to support their success.
With TeachOregon, the focus is on co-teaching, with lots of collaboration on planning supported by plenty of constructive feedback. The candidates take on increasing responsibilities over their 30 weeks in the program, which supports them through the process and better prepares them to enter the workforce.
Jennifer Kleiber, a first-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary in Salem, jumped at the chance to get involved in the Collaborative. Next year she is joining the faculty at Corban University.
“I feel an obligation to the next generation,” she says. “I want to make a better experience for them, so they can come out of student-teaching with the skills they need to get a good start.”
Kleiber says that she’s sure that in addition to preparing new teachers for the rigors of the classroom and making that first year more productive for both teachers and students the program helps teacher retention.
“They have so much more confidence” when they begin their careers, she says. “They are as prepared as they can be for the amount of time and energy and preparation this job requires.”
Mitch Graham, a new graduate of Corban who was a teacher candidate with Kleiber, says he got a grasp of the bigger picture of teaching while learning details, like how to run parent conferences. Kleiber involved him in every aspect of the job, giving him feedback and support every step of the way.
“Jen planned with me, not for me,” he says. “She always guided me, but also let me try out my own ideas and take a swing at things. If things worked, we’d talk about why. If they didn’t work, we’d talk about what do to better the next time. I really feel I’m ready to be a teacher, and I’m exited to get started.”
- Teacher Preparation