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Fifth Year Program Hopes to Cultivate Future Teachers

by Ben Gleason

At a time when schools across the country are holding class in storage closets, and the average class size in public schools is just under 30 students, the idea that education might get worse before it improves is a scary one. According to a non-profit organization called Recruiting New Teachers, the U.S. will need to hire two million new teachers over the next 10 years to meet the enrollment demand and replace an aging teaching force. To counter this trend on a local level, Acting Dean of the College Robert Geitz recently submitted an executive summary outlining Oberlin's plan to reintroduce a teacher training program. Oberlin hopes that this program will improve the quality of the Oberlin public schools as well as serve as a venue for mentoring future teachers.

Admission to this program requires a portfolio of activities, including significant tutoring experience and other in-school programs. Once accepted, students will spend a fifth year at Oberlin, though the cost of tuition will be much reduced. Only two core courses are required for this program: a course in human development and a course in education.

During this fifth year, the students will take a year-long seminar on teaching methods, including the teaching of reading and phonics. The spring semester will be made up of student teaching. Students who complete the program will be issued a provisional teaching license, which is the initial Ohio teacher certification. This license grants students reciprocity in 40 states and in the District of Columbia.

"The single contribution of this program is not the contribution of Oberlin students directly the program's contribution is to the ongoing professional development of teachers and staff of the schools and the chance to mentor future teachers. Yet we acknowledge that it is a risk to put a relatively young and inexperienced young person in front of a class," Dan Gardner, assistant to the President of Community Affairs said.

"The conversation has been pretty much confined to the schools and folks in the College. It's on a proposal and there's a lot to be developed," Gardner said. In the next few months, the "broader community hopes will come up," Gardner said.

"The community's interested but I know of Oberlin students who are interested," Professor of mathematics Jeff Witmer said. Witmer, who has two sons at Oberlin High School, is currently the President of the Board of Education, as well as co-chair of the College and Public Schools Committee.

"There's a national shortage of teachers right now and more Oberlin College students should be prepared to be teachers, not just for the benefit of Oberlin High School, but for the benefit of society in general," Witmer said. A few years ago, one of Witmer's advisees left Oberlin because there was no formal education program here.

Witmer seemed confident that this program will be successful. "We have to get approval from the state of Ohio, and we have to get faculty hired to support the program. Those are the only real obstacles right now," he said.

"Oberlin had a teacher education program for a long time, and it was regarded as a model," Dean Geitz said. "It ran into some problems because it was too small with only three faculty. The state was shifting requirements for teachers every year and that made it difficult for the program because the three faculty had to change the curriculum every year. This became very burdensome." These reasons, Geitz said, coupled with a declining student interest on a national level, were enough to persuade the faculty involved to disband the progam.

The times have changed, and student interest in the teacher training program has rebounded.

"One of the large needs of our society is for teachers at the pre-college levels. Getting Obies out to this area is one of the strongest ways of influencing the future," Geitz said.

This proposal, noted Geitz, intends to be the building block for a solid teaching career. "Teach for America is great, but it won't lead to teaching careers. It's for these people who're interested in teaching for a couple of years before they move onto something else. The way to help students become permanent teachers is to help them get certified," Geitz said.

"It's a win-win situation. The student teachers will be closely supervised. They'll have a great deal of training before ever setting foot in the classroom as a teacher," Diana Roose, assistant to the President, said. Roose is responsible for coordinating the partnership between the College and public schools. "I'm a parent with two kids in school and I think this can really benefit the kids in schools as well as teachers," she said.

The reasons why students will commit to this program are obvious, according to Gardner. "We are designing one of the most rigorous and intense programs out there. Oberlin students don't shy away from the rigorous and intense and that's what they'd seek at the next level. A large number of Oberlin students find their way into working with schools now, as tutors, as mentors. Some will want to extend that relationship. It's perhaps advantageous in one you know well."

Another reason, Gardner adds, is the "vastly reduced cost for this program," though the exact figures haven't been worked out yet.

Vice-President of Finance Andrew Evans said that because the teacher training program is still in its infant stages, it is too early to have an idea of how the financial structure will be laid out. Evans said, "We haven't even begun to understand the rest of the program. It's very preliminary to talk about it."

Junior Emma Ramstad set up an independent major because Oberlin lacks a formal education department. She said, "The education that I study is the integration of arts and education and so one of the reasons my independent major got passed is because it's not offered at the College."

Ramstad said although Oberlin has worked out well for her, "I don't feel like the College has been that supportive. I feel like if someone was into education, they'd have a hard time here, especially if they were studying early childhood."

This seems doubly clear since the provisional license is only being offered in the following areas: middle childhood (grades 4-9) and adolescent (grades 7-12) education. There are no provisions being made for teachers interested in early childhood education.

"I feel like I've done it on my own. Patty [Dewinstanley, professor of psychology] has helped me out, but I get frustrated with my independent major because I don't feel like there's a community relating to education," Ramstad said. In order for the College to get that successful community feeling, Ramstad said, "They'd have to start bringing education classes into four years. There's other interesting topics besides educational psychology and developmental psychology."

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 7, November 3, 2000

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