DOVER — Emily Eichelberger wrote out half a subtraction problem on her white board.
It started with a blank space; something minus one equals two. Four kindergarten students copied it down.
“How are we supposed to figure out what goes in front?” she asked the four kids.
At the front of the classroom, teacher Julie Powell was also working on math problems, counting out the answers with the rest of the class.
They’re a top-notch team.
Although Ms. Eichelberger is still finishing her degree at Wilmington University, she has spent all school year teaching with Ms. Powell at North Dover Elementary School.
She and three other students are participating in a year-long residency program at North Dover, where they work side-by-side with veteran teachers in the classroom.
Gov. Jack Markell joined Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to visit the teachers at North Dover on Wednesday afternoon.
He called it “ground zero” in efforts to strengthen teacher preparation programs.
Those efforts included Senate Bill 51, which state lawmakers passed in 2013, setting tougher entry and exit requirements for education students.
“I’m in awe watching you and having to be so on every minute, instinctively,” he told teachers.
“And then to do that without having the background and not having the experience — it seems to me that this (program) makes a lot of sense.”
The new program is a partnership between Wilmington University and Capital, Indian River and Red Clay Consolidated school districts.
Three schools — North Dover, East Millsboro, and Richey elementary schools — are piloting it.
Staff at Wilmington University selected and placed 12 students in their final year in the schools, where they paired them with mentor teachers.
The students normally would have just finished up method classes and clinical coursework in the fall and moved into student teaching in the spring.
Instead, the year-long program “collapsed it into one event,” said Tyler Wells, head of the university Office of Clinical Studies.
“The best way to characterize it is they’re living being a teacher,” said Al DiEmedio, director of teacher education programs. “They’re not just coming in for 80 days and being a student teacher. They’re living it.”
“Living” being a teacher
Stacy Respoli is working with resident Raven Armiger in her third-grade classroom at North Dover, where they were reading with students when Gov. Markell visited.
“I’ve had student teachers in the past — they’re just kind of in your room, they help out. But I consider Raven a team member,” she said.
“She’s in my room. We’re a team and we’re responsible for these kids. They’re our kids. We bounce ideas off of each other as we’re teaching.”
During the program, the host teachers work as adjunct professors and receive a stipend from Wilmington University; they review lesson plans with the student teachers, go over their instruction and check in at meetings with university staff.
The group said that when student teachers stay at school from the beginning all the way to clean up at the end, it makes a big difference.
“My resident actually was here, helping me get my classroom ready, over the first couple of days of school when you’re establishing those routines,” said Nicole Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at North Dover. “Really, that sets up the whole school year for you.”
The residents build a rapport with their students from the start, she said. They can watch the children grow, and mark their own progress as well.
“The other beauty of it is, they’re not just confined to that classroom. They act as a team. They rotate around,” Mr. DiEmedio said.
“Someone might have a strength relative to teaching strategy. He or she can share that with all of the group as opposed to expecting one mentor teacher to know everything and to transport that knowledge to one individual.”
It’s a “total immersion” in teaching, said Betty Wyatt-Dix, a residency supervisor at Wilmington University.
Students learn about day-to-day life as a teacher, right down to using school software.
“She is into it just as much as I am. She is helping to put the grades in, doing everything that she needs to do,” said teacher Julie Powell.
“That is the hidden side of it that I never got to experience during my student teaching.”
In the coming months, Wilmington University plans to expand the residency program and add more partners.
It was supported in part by $230,000 in Race to the Top grant funds, which the state Department of Education awarded to Wilmington University’s teacher prep programs.
Because the program is mostly paid for with student tuition, the cost of growing it should not be prohibitive, university officials said.
The main problem, officials noted, is finding students who can afford the year-long, unpaid internship.