"Make room for your pals," Michelle French called out as most of her 24 third-graders crowded near her at the projector screen.
At the other end of the classroom, Myia Bunker rounded up six students to join her with their workbooks at a semicircular kid-height table.
French is a teacher at Mount Pleasant's Fancher Elementary School. Bunker is a CMU senior
special education major from Wolverine, Michigan. As they separately launched into reading comprehension lessons about types of bridges, cooperation formed a bridge linking the two of them.
co-teaching, and it's a growing innovation in Central Michigan University teacher education, where the emphasis is on real-world experience.
Teacher Michelle French, left, and teacher candidate Myia Bunker work with students in the third-grade classroom they co-teach at Fancher Elementary School in Mount Pleasant.
Head start on student teaching
Co-teaching is an approach both pre-student teachers and student teachers from CMU use in the field.
Previous forms of pre-student teaching could leave teacher candidates in behind-the-scenes support roles. In co-teaching, they're more often front and center in the classroom.
Mentor teachers such as French can immerse teacher candidates like Bunker in planning lessons, presenting instruction and managing the classroom.
"It increases the candidates' time in the field," explained Jillian Davidson, director of clinical experiences in the
College of Education and Human Services' Center for Clinical Experiences.
"Co-teaching gives you the picture of teaching as a whole," Bunker said. "I feel like I'm already a teacher, because I get to see the whole planning process."
Putting lessons into practice
The process also plays out in Chris Sabourin's fifth-grade classroom at Plymouth Elementary School in Midland, Michigan, where CMU student Emily Branigan co-teaches.
Branigan — a senior from Shepherd, Michigan, majoring in
elementary education and special education — started in September by observing Sabourin's classroom routines and management techniques two days a week. The two meet before and after classes to plan and debrief.
In the last three weeks of the semester she will spend four days a week with Sabourin and his students doing everything from small-group work to whole-classroom lessons.
"I learn about co-teaching strategies in my special education courses at CMU," Branigan said, "but it is meaningful that I can practice them when I am teaching with Chris in the classroom."
As an example, Branigan created a persuasive writing exercise where small groups of students moved from one "station" to another in the classroom, working on introductory paragraphs, supporting ideas and conclusions. The assigned topic? Persuading the principal to let homebound students attend school through mobile robots.
"It was great," Sabourin said, noting that Branigan had to adjust on the fly when some students wanted to oppose robots. "That's what happens in the real world of teaching."
Investing in experience
Co-teaching is on the rise.
Davidson said CMU now has co-teaching arrangements with six area school districts — up from three last year — and will add Clare Primary School in the spring. Co-teaching opportunities in pre-student teaching soon will extend to
secondary education teacher candidates.
"We went into this model knowing this experience would be better not only for our candidates but for the public school students," Davidson said. "We really are investing in this program."
The return on that investment in clinical experience: School hiring managers know CMU-trained teachers are career-ready.
Davidson said 10 percent of CMU student teachers are allowed to leave student teaching early to take a full-time job, sometimes in their student-teaching district, sometimes elsewhere.
"My phone, especially over the summer, is ringing off the hook with people looking for candidates," she said. "We have a very high demand.
"It's a good time to be graduating as an education major."