March 28-April 10, 2003
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Revolutionizing teacher ed
Students in the BA/MT program enjoying a lecture.
Photos by Andrew Shurtleff
Students in the BA/MT program enjoying a lecture.

By Anne Bromley

Beyond nursery rhymes
Curry programs aid state in improving reading skills

The U.S. president wants results. Governors, their departments of education, local communities and other groups want results. Federal policies and state standards of learning set the stage for results.

Yet, such mandates to improve the academic performance of children tend to overlook one element — teachers.

The exodus of new teachers has become a big problem, with newcomers leaving the profession almost as fast as they’re joining it. They cite inadequate preparation and mentoring among their top reasons. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 46 percent of teachers leave within five years, 24 percent within the first two.

“The pressures on schools and teachers are immense, and they’re determined by every segment of society,” said Victor Luftig, an associate professor of English who is heading Teachers for a New Era, a U.Va. effort funded by the Carnegie Corporation with the goal of revolutionizing teacher education.

Victor Luftig (left) directs the Teachers for a New Era initiative. Sandra Cohen (right) heads teacher education.
Victor Luftig (left) directs the Teachers for a New Era initiative. Sandra Cohen (right) heads teacher education.

Last year Carnegie singled out U.Va. and three other schools around the nation to launch Teachers for a New Era. Joined by the Annenberg and Ford foundations, Carnegie is supporting the University’s project with a five-year, $5 million grant.

The University aims to boost interest in teaching among U.Va. students and to create a yearlong residency program for new teachers, including those in local schools, that will provide teachers with more appropriate support and increase retention. The Curry School and the College of Arts & Sciences will work together more closely than ever to achieve these goals.

“We want to raise the profile of K through 12 teaching and send a signal to undergraduates that this is something the University values,” said Luftig, who is on leave from directing the Center for Liberal Arts, one of U.Va.’s outreach programs providing continuing education for K-12 teachers.

Offering a series of “common courses” is one way the University will emphasize the profession and potentially attract more students to teaching.

The interdisciplinary courses will be large lectures, team-taught by professors from two or more departments, said Karen Ryan, associate dean of Arts & Sciences. The courses will take a broad approach and will show, for example, how a scientist or an artist thinks. Of six discussion sections, a Curry instructor will lead one on issues surrounding teaching.

“This grant benefits the whole University, but the reason we got it is because of the Curry School,” Luftig said. Curry is known for its cutting-edge initiatives, including the five-year teacher education program combining a bachelor of arts with a master’s in teaching.

Enhancing the BA/MT degree is another goal of the Teachers for a New Era initiative. Since the degree program began in 1986, students have had two advisers, one from Arts & Sciences for their major and one from the Curry School for teacher education. Under the grant, advising will become a joint effort, with faculty from both schools working in teams.

Faculty invited to seminars on teaching

Arts & Sciences faculty will be encouraged to participate in the Teachers for a New Era initiative. The first seminar on assessment methods, “Evidence and Education,” will be offered this semester and will be open to faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Curry School. When Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block invited faculty suggested by their deans, he said the goal is “to create a faculty group capable of advising the University as it develops efficient ways to measure pupils’ achievement, ways that might inform the improvement of our ongoing education of prospective teachers.”

Faculty interested in joining the seminar should contact
Victor Luftig at vl4n@virginia.edu or 982-5205.

Benefits of the grant will reach beyond the Grounds. New teachers in Charlottesville and Albemarle schools, regardless of where they got their training, will participate in a revamped “induction” program, with more intensive mentoring and support during their first two years.

“The induction will help facilitate their transition into taking on the full responsibilities of the profession,” said Sandra Cohen, Curry director of teacher education. She likened the new induction to a medical residency.

To oversee the induction component, Luftig has assembled an “Expert Educators Group” comprising Arts & Sciences associate deans, Cohen and administrators and teachers from area schools. Few precedents for partnerships between universities and nearby schools exist, said Luftig. Rather than just telling the schools how to do things better, “we need to learn from the local school divisions how the University can become the best possible resource for them,” he said.

The grant also will offer special benefits to Curry graduates, 40 percent of whom leave the state for jobs. They will have the chance to stay connected to U.Va. and continue professional development through new activities on Grounds and telementoring with expert teachers in their fields.

Just as assessment has become an emphasis in education, evaluation will be a crucial component of the initiative. Curry professor Robert McNergney, a pioneer in developing the case method for teacher preparation on video, is temporarily heading this area of the grant.

He and other Curry researchers will look at who comes into teaching and how the new efforts make them more effective teachers whose pupils enjoy learning and achieve academic success.

Along with developing a new model of cooperation between professors and their counterparts in K-12 schools, the Carnegie grant promises an opportunity for U.Va. to usher in a new era in teaching – one where the community is dedicated to teacher education and to helping teachers prepare for long, satisfying careers.


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