Doing Education Right


Professional Development School, cooperation with school districts earns gold stars for Teachers College

When a video crew from the United States Department of Education shows up in your classroom, it’s more than likely not “gotcha” journalism at work. Not when the interviewers ask questions that delve into a teacher education program that Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has singled out as an example of what’s good about the process of teaching teachers.

USDE video screenshotAnd especially not when the resulting seven minutes and 32 seconds of video finds its way onto the USDE’s blog to sharpen the focus on one simple but transformative premise: great teachers matter. (View the video on ESU’s YouTube page.)

So what makes the Teachers College a standout? What is ESU doing right, and why does Duncan refer to the Teachers College as the “crown jewel of the school”?

It’s a three-pronged answer, according to Dr. J. Phillip Bennett, dean of The Teachers College, and Dr. Ken Weaver, associate dean.

One, says Weaver, “The college has always had dynamic leadership. But part of that dynamic leadership has been to trust the department chairs and the faculty. That’s where your ideas come from.”

The second part of the equation—and the segment that has earned the Teachers College much of its recent recognition—is its innovative Professional Development School (PDS). It’s a teacher preparation program modeled after the way doctors are trained in hospital residencies, immersing teacher candidates into the classroom environment for a full year.

“It’s won us a lot of recognition for our classroom teacher preparation model,” notes Bennett. “It’s a year long program, and the cooperative agreement with the schools is key. We’re training teachers together with the school districts.”

“The net effect,” explains Weaver, “is that by the time a teacher graduates, he or she has seen the full spectrum of the joys and concerns about teaching—unhappy parents, successful students, the tensions that exist.”

The spirit of cooperation extends not only to the schools participating as PDS sites—there are 34 such elementary and secondary sites in the state—but also across the ESU campus, where professors in disciplines as diverse as biology and music steer the content that candidate teachers learn to prepare them for classroom positions.

Face-to-face supervision of those students is the third key component of the program’s success. “We want our people to go out into the classrooms and meet with the cooperating teachers, observe the students, evaluate their performance, and provide feedback to the candidates,” says Weaver.

“It’s a steadfast commitment to make sure that there is quality supervision, and that there are people saying, ‘You’re doing well here, you can do better here, and this is how.’”

“Graduates of the Teachers College are highly sought-after by school districts because of their depth of knowledge and thoroughness of training and experience they bring to the classroom,” wrote Todd May in the USDE’s blog site,

“Superintendents tell us it’s like they’re getting a second-year teacher when they hire one of our graduates,” Bennett says, “because they’ve already been in the classroom a whole year.”

The solid foundation on which ESU teaching candidates build their careers keeps them in the profession. Ninety-two percent of ESU’s graduating teachers remain in the classroom for more than five years—almost twice the national average.

Finishing out her year as a teaching intern at Emporia’s Village Elementary School, Madeline Kilmer of Lawrence summarizes the experience best in the Education Department video:

“Next year, I’ve been hired here at Village to be the kindergarten dual-language teacher. I’m very excited. I feel completely ready to be a first-year teacher on my own, and I’m just very grateful to ESU for preparing me for that.”