Allison Barnett spotlight profile on alumni experience at ACU Summer Teacher Institute.

Teacher for preschool children
with disabilities at Waco ISD

The "at risk" children that Allison Barnett works with don't know it, but their teacher once was "at risk" too - not as a student, but as a teacher.

Two years ago, Allison found herself in the same boat as a lot of first-year teachers - bewildered, frustrated, feeling totally overwhelmed and not up to the job.

But she was luckier than a lot of her peers. ACU's Summer Institute for Beginning Teachers, started in 2007, turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

After the two-day session, Allison was energized and ready to give it another shot. She was so grateful for the reinforcement she got at the institute that she wrote a long thank-you letter to the staff.

"I cannot remember a time in my life when I felt more treasured and precious," she wrote.

Allison's second year proved to be "fabulous," and she now is in her third year teaching a Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities at Waco ISD's Parkdale Professional Development School.

If it hadn't been for ACU's Summer Institute for Beginning Teachers, Allison might be just another statistic instead of a bright, energetic teacher bringing skills and joy to children considered "at risk" even at such a young age.

Tackling the teacher attrition problem

Attrition among teachers in the first five years is extremely high, reaching 50 percent in some places, said Dr. Dana Hood, chair of the Department of Teacher Education.

Part of the problem is the difficulty of the job and part of it is a lack of support. The job isn't likely to get any easier, but students who get their degree at ACU have a built-in support in the summer institute, which is free and open only to ACU graduates.

"We want our students, our alums, to be equipped to stay," Hood said. "We want our teachers to stay in the field."

As if that support system weren't enough, new teachers at the institute get an additional perk. They can meet half of a state professional development requirement if they attend the institute for five years.

An added bonus

The state of Texas requires 150 hours of professional development during a teacher's first five years. Attendance at the summer institute for five years will account for half of that requirement totally free of charge.

But attendance at the institute does much more than fulfill requirements. New and experienced educators share knowledge on a variety of topics like conflict resolution, classroom management and teaching methodologies.

Now in her third year, Allison said she is being pushed even harder but is able to handle it, thanks in part to what she gained at the summer institute.

"I have a challenging class and rely on some of the things I learned at the institute daily," she said.

In her letter after attending the summer institute, Allison thanked the faculty for showing her that she wasn’t alone and for giving her the encouragement she needed to push onward.

"Thank you for your insistence that I was doing a good job and that I was completely normal feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at times," she wrote. "You were a blessing - may the Lord re-pay you a hundred-fold."

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