CMC student teachers face financial dilemma
A model teacher education program at Colorado Mountain College may require some model solutions to help aspiring educators make it through their student teaching year on solid financial footing.
The first batch of students in CMC’s elementary education teaching program — one of five bachelor degrees now offered by the college — are entering their senior year this fall. The program requires them to put in 1,200 hours of student teaching in a classroom setting in order to graduate.
That equates to pretty much an entire school year of near full-time, in-classroom experience. It’s more than double the national average for teacher certification requirements, and 400 hours more than Colorado requires, notes Barbara Johnson, who directs the program for CMC.
“What’s unique about our program is that the practitioners in our area school districts had the major voice in designing it,” Johnson said.
The result was a program tailored to the needs of the rural and mountain districts that CMC serves, with a heavy emphasis on real classroom experience “beginning week one, year one,” Johnson said.
“It all culminates in their senior year with a full, unpaid internship,” she said. “That gives them a huge leap forward, where our hope is that our graduates will be more like second-year teachers.”
But it also presents a unique dilemma for some students who have relied on being able to hold down at least a part-time paying job while juggling their class loads and in some cases family obligations.
Ten of the approximately 100 students making their way through CMC’s teacher certification program are preparing for senior-year placements in kindergarten-through-sixth-grade classrooms in Roaring Fork, Garfield Re-2 and Eagle County schools.
It’s a great opportunity for Victoria Norville. She has a degree in early childhood education from her native Argentina where she learned English as an adult, and has been working as a preschool teacher in the Roaring Fork Schools. But she wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education so she could get a better job.
The cultural and linguistic diversity of the area schools is a plus for her as a bilingual teacher. She also said she understands the challenges facing immigrant students and their families.
She and her husband, Rob Norville, who is a Glenwood Springs High School science teacher, knew that she would eventually need to stop working in order to do her student teaching. She did that this past year so she could focus full-time on her studies and being a parent of two young children.
It’s been rough financially for the family, which rents their New Castle home and must keep up with other household expenses, Victoria said.
She has qualified for financial aid, which she said has helped. The payoff after she completes her student teaching assignment in a kindergarten classroom at Glenwood Springs Elementary School this coming year, she hopes, will be a full-time teaching job in one of the area elementary schools.
Norville and fellow teaching student McKenna Wheeler both say the CMC program has enhanced their passion to become teachers because of the hands-on training.
Johnson explained that freshman year includes regular visits to a variety of different classrooms. Sophomore year involves working with an individual student during sophomore year, including home visits with that student, and progresses to small groups of students, then larger groups and developing lesson and unit plans.
“We want to prepare teachers to work with all children in our communities, including our second-language students,” she said.
Wheeler, a traditional-age college student from California, said she was inspired to become a teacher by her own fifth-grade teacher who pushed her in math. She said the in-classroom learning offered through CMC’s program allowed her to experience those “light-bulb” moments with children that she said only solidified her decision.
The student teaching year will make it difficult for her to keep up with her 28-hour-a-week Spring Valley campus job as a resident-life assistant in the student dorms, where she and her new husband also reside.
“We all talked about it at the end of last semester, and how we might be able to help each other,” said Wheeler, who is preparing to do her student teaching in a fifth-grade classroom at Sopris Elementary School.
“A few of us are fortunate to be in a workable situation, but it is tough,” she said.
Nate Adams works as a teacher recruiter for Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. He said the CMC program benefits local districts by giving prospective teachers an up-close look at how area schools operate, which might work to keep them here.
“These students are going to rise to the top for us when it comes to hiring new teachers, because they know the schools, they know the area and are going to be trained in the culturally diverse environment that we offer,” Adams said.
The expanded classroom experience offered through CMC’s program is novel compared with the teacher certification requirements just five years ago. As a result, CMC is becoming a model for other colleges to follow, he said.
But the senior year requirement is tough on some students who still need to make ends meet, he acknowledged.
To help student teachers through that, the Roaring Fork District is looking at things such as offering them jobs in food service or driving a bus, if they wish, so that they can have a paying job option that’s not during regular school hours.
Teachers who train locally are more likely to seek jobs in those same local schools, Adams said.
CMC is also working to identify new means of financial assistance for teaching students, which could include loan programs or senior-year scholarships specifically geared to their needs, said Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer for the college.
“The big cost in this situation is not tuition, it’s housing,” he said. “It’s not a work-study, so we have to be creative in what we come up with.”
Eventually, CMC is looking at anywhere from 20-30 students per year entering their student-teaching year, so those solutions will have to be identified, he said.
One possible solution is for the college to work with its partner school districts to come up with some sort of assurance that a teaching job will await the students once they’ve successfully completed the program, he said.
About 85 percent of the students in CMC’s teaching program completed their own education within the CMC district.
One possible source of scholarship funding, according to Johnson, is the Paula Marr Future Educator Memorial Scholarship, named for a Roaring Fork School District teacher who died unexpectedly a few years ago.
Up to $1,250 is awarded to four elementary education students per year, renewable for four years based on maintaining a grade point average of 3.0. However, the initial funds for the scholarship are being depleted and will rely on ongoing support from the community in the future, she said.
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