Summer Institute nurtures beginning teachers

summer institute for beginning teachers

Allison Barnett ('05) was ready to throw in the towel after her first year of teaching "at-risk" youngsters in the Waco Independent School District.

"I had no clue what I was doing. I felt like I was way in over my head," she recalls. And that feeling surprised her. "All through college, I thought I was cut out to be a teacher. My mom was a teacher. I've always loved working with kids. I thought it would come naturally - and it didn’t."

Barnett is not alone in her experience. Most beginning teachers feel frustrated, isolated and overwhelmed, says Dr. Dana Pemberton, chair of ACU's Department of Teacher Education. Not surprisingly, the attrition rate for novice teachers is high.

High attrition rate among new teachers

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future estimates that one of every three new teachers leaves the profession in the first three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years. This loss of talent costs the nation's public school districts more than $7.3 billion a year in recruiting and training expenses, says a 2007 report by the nonprofit research advocacy group. 

Fortunately for Barnett, she found a resource many of her peers do not have - ACU's Summer Institute for Beginning Teachers. The institute, launched in 2007, is designed to provide extra mentoring and support for ACU alumni teachers during those critical first five years.  The institute is free and open only to ACU graduates.

Barnett attended ACU's first summer institute. "I remember standing in the hall with Dana [Pemberton] and going, 'Is it supposed to be this difficult? Am I supposed to struggle? Am I supposed to cry?' And Dana said, 'Absolutely - the first year is very hard.'"

A nurturing learning environment

Barnett spent the next two days connecting with other beginning teachers, sharing her struggles with ACU faculty, and attending sessions on such varied topics as conflict resolution, classroom management and teaching methodologies.

In the fall, Barnett returned to her job refreshed, armed with new classroom strategies, innovative teaching techniques and a revived spirit.

This year's institute will host 42 beginning teachers. Featured presenters are Dr. Marilyn Friend of the Co-Teaching Connection, who is president elect of the Council for Exceptional Children, and Dr. Tricia Jones, project director for the CRETE Project, who will present a workshop on conflict resolution.  

The emotional support at the institute can be a lifeline to teachers like Barnett who are struggling with whether they can even make it through those first difficult years. They are in "survival mode," says Pemberton. "What they get here is spiritual and emotional nurture. They come back. We affirm them. They know us, so it is authentic."   

Beyond the emotional support, the summer institute provides rich resources for professional development. In the past, topics have included literacy training, gifted students, children with special needs, math instruction, conflict resolution and classroom management.

Professional development credit

As an added benefit, teachers can meet half of a state professional development requirement if they attend the institute for five years. 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 75 of those hours totally free of charge.

While teachers have other opportunities for professional development, few venues allow for the depth of relationships that develop during ACU's summer institute.

"It's a time for that nurturing, mentoring relationship. I think that is the different piece of this professional development," Pemberton says. "It's not just that you're getting great ideas and strategies. But it's a safe place to ask questions and to share your victories and your failures." 

Offerings such as the summer institute set ACU's teacher education department apart from other universities, and that fact is not lost on professionals in charge of hiring for school districts.

Cheryl Cunningham, director of early childhood programs at Abilene ISD, has been hiring teachers for more than 20 years. "I can identify an ACU graduate every time just by the interview," she says. "They are so much more well prepared than any other applicant that comes in. I can ask questions about theory, and they can answer them. I can ask questions about classroom management or setup or curriculum, and they can answer them. Without fail, they are the most successful off-the-bat classroom teachers." 

Learn more about ACU's Department of Teacher Education  

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ACU Teacher Education majors get hands-on with students at a local elementary school.
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The Master of Education in Teaching and Learning is a one-year master's program designed for ACU students who will complete a bachelor's degree in Education