Sean Loftin didn’t shake a Magic 8 Ball to be certain of the new direction his career was taking. “Without a doubt,” this Navy veteran and professional photographer felt a different calling.
Loftin plans to take his new master’s degree in elementary education from UT Chattanooga and teach in an urban public school. “One of the reasons I want to work in an urban setting is that I live in an urban neighborhood, go to church in an urban neighborhood, and have a passion for community in general. That passion influences my attitude toward areas of our city that sometimes seem neglected,” Loftin says.
Near the UTC campus are two of Hamilton County’s thriving magnet elementary schools, Brown Academy and Battle Academy, where Loftin completed his student-teaching. “Education creates opportunities and therefore strengthens communities, enabling them to care for themselves,” Loftin says. “UTC encouraged me to work in two different urban schools, which in turn allowed me to understand those communities’ populations and how to best serve them.”
UTC’s Teacher Preparation Academy tries to make sure its candidates get student-teaching experience in urban schools–especially good training for those whose first jobs will be in those schools. When you consider that 85 percent of America’s novice teachers are women from middle-class backgrounds and the students they teach are often economically disadvantaged, one can see how specialized training might help new teachers succeed. Studies show that without effective training and support, 50 percent to 60 percent of teachers in urban schools leave teaching within 3 to 5 years.
Children in some of Hamilton County’s most challenged schools have improved measurably thanks to the Benwood Initiative, which funds professional development for teachers. Teachers in the Benwood schools are eligible for the Osborne Fellows Initiative, a program designed by UTC and Johns Hopkins University to improve student achievement by giving urban teachers an outstanding master’s degree program tailored just for them. The fellowship program, developed by the Public Education Foundation in partnership with the Osborne Foundation, accommodates the schedules of full-time teachers.
“These opportunities have benefited both pre-service and in-service educators,” says Dr. Valerie Rutledge, UC Foundation professor and head of the Teacher Preparation Academy, “not only because they focus on the unique challenges presented by many urban schools but also because they afford these teachers a chance to acquire knowledge and skills appropriate for the students they will teach.”
UTC also offers the Urban Specialist Certificate for experienced urban teachers and administrators who want to hone their skills. Certificate holders are qualified to help with professional development of novice and pre-service teachers in urban schools.
With his academic preparation behind him, if Loftin had shaken the Magic 8 Ball and asked if he was prepared for the challenge of student teaching, the answer should have been outlook good. If he had asked whether he was ready to take what he knew and apply it in the classroom, the answer might have been concentrate and ask again.
“My student-teaching experience was eye-opening,” Loftin says. “It taught me more about the classroom than I could have learned from just observing.” At Battle Academy, Loftin reported to classroom teacher Hollie Steele. “We would discuss my progress and she would offer advice and constructive criticism of my lesson plans, my classroom management, and my relationship with the children,” Loftin says. “Mrs. Steele helped me understand how to manage a classroom effectively.”
The Teacher Preparation Academy and the Graduate Studies Division of Education are parts of the UTC College of Health, Education, and Professional Studies, which offers a range of programs that have both knowledge-based and clinically based courses. Students learn how to pass entrance exams and how to survive as new professionals.
While Loftin did his student-teaching the traditional way, other UTC students spend as many as two semesters in Hamilton County Professional Development Schools, where the students work alongside accomplished teachers and gain firsthand experience. “Students perform many of the duties they will assume once they have their own classrooms,” Rutledge says. “They participate in bus duty, attend faculty meetings, chaperone field trips, prepare bulletin boards, work with small groups of students, develop lessons and teach them, and even take part in many of the schools’ extracurricular activities.”
Though Loftin was surprised to be the only male in his elementary education classes, UTC is increasing diversity among future teachers. With support from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, “Each One Reach One” has helped recruit more African American males and made the Chattanooga-area teaching workforce more representative of the population.
“I believe diversity among teachers allows students to understand the population of their community,” Loftin says. “Communities aren’t made up of all women; they aren’t all white or all black. A diverse faculty brings a variety of experience to their students and helps them understand the plurality of a community.”
The state of Tennessee also offers Minority Teaching Fellows scholarships, and several grants secured by UTC focus on providing access to higher education by giving young people–often as young as the middle grades–the chance to learn about the options available to them. “Become a Special Educator in Tennessee” (BASE-TN), funded by the state’s Department of Education, helps good students who are interested in becoming special-education teachers. BASE-TN graduates spend 2 years as special educators in Tennessee public schools in return for each year of financial assistance they receive.
UTC also is part of the Carnegie Corporation’s program “Teachers for a New Era,” an initiative to strengthen K- though-12 teaching by developing state-of-the-art programs at schools of education. UTC was the only public institution in Tennessee invited to participate.
“What an honor for UTC to be recognized as an institution that leads the way in teacher-education reform,” says Rutledge. “This designation has afforded UTC faculty members opportunities to network with other professionals across the country who are involved in unique and promising programs. Besides networking, grant opportunities and professional workshops also are offered to the UTC Teacher Preparation Academy faculty and partners at no cost.”
The UTC College of Health, Education, and Professional Studies is committed to quality and innovation, says Dean Mary Tanner. She says the college is developing online delivery and increased access for working students.
“We believe UTC faculty members have a great deal of insight about the needs of school professionals,” says Tanner. “Some other proprietary programs may not have our ability to prepare a diverse group of school professionals–we work so closely with schools, and we have such a solid reputation in the basics.”