New teachers today are facing a professional landscape far different from teachers of past generations. Hardly any schools have escaped the teacher staffing shortage that afflicts the entire country. In Tennessee, the teacher shortage grows, and both public and independent schools are feeling the strain. Last year, Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education graduated a cohort of graduate students, almost 90% of whom took positions in Metro Nashville Public Schools. For these teachers, and those currently training at Peabody, local public-school observations and practicums make up a vital and impactful part of their training. But the cutting-edge research and pedagogical approaches they study are often hard to observe in practice in the very classrooms most new teachers end up teaching in. With the national number of teachers dropping over 300,000 in the last few years, effective training for those still committed to the profession is critical.
Dr. Andrea Henrie has been training teachers at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College for 17 years. Dr. Henrie explained that as a teacher trainer she now must, “prepare teachers to be able to go into any classroom in any type of school - public or private - and implement best teaching practices, despite the curriculum handed to them.” But Dr. Henrie also recognizes the incongruity of expecting new teachers to successfully put best teaching methods into practice when they never see them in action. To mitigate the disconnect between training and classroom observations, Dr. Henrie turned to Rena Malkofsky-Berger, the Curriculum Coordinator at Akiva School. Best pedagogical methods and critical research into child learning and development shape the curriculum at Akiva, and are put into practice every day, in every classroom. And so, after months of practicums and observations in local public schools, Dr. Henrie brought her students to Akiva.
Sarah Chopko is a graduate student at Peabody, and one of 14 to visit Akiva. Chopko said that her time at Akiva was, “a really impressive example of student focused learning.” Chopko added that, “Until I came to Akiva, there was a real disconnect between the pedagogical practices we were trained to implement and what we were seeing in classroom observations.” Paige Beede, a master’s student in the Elementary Education Program at Peabody, echoed Chopko’s thoughts. Beede observed that, “Getting exposure to a school like Akiva is very powerful. The chance to see the innovation and integrated learning in the Akiva classrooms is exciting.” Beede was especially intrigued by Akiva’s approach to reading and writing, noting that, “Akiva has given us the opportunity to see a real celebration of learning. We are seeing the teaching methods we are learning about actually put in practice.”
For Akiva faculty, the chance to welcome Peabody students into their classrooms was a mutually beneficial partnership. While visiting Akiva, Peabody students spent time in classrooms, providing support to students in reading, writing and STEAM. Akiva faculty had the chance to share their experience and insight into teaching, which was an affirming opportunity to reflect on their own careers, educational practices, and appreciation for Akiva. Perhaps more critically, this collaboration created awareness about Akiva School and promoted Akiva as a potential employer for emerging teachers. In organizing this collaboration Malkofsky-Berger factored in the importance of calling attention to Akiva as a potential option for teachers. In a state with more than 2000 teacher vacancies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and in a school with growing enrollment and the need to hire additional faculty, this awareness is crucial to maintaining the high level of teaching faculty that Akiva has become so well-known for.
This collaborative experience was so successful that Dr. Henrie is looking to make Akiva observations part of her students’ mandatory requirements. Both Dr. Henrie and Malkfosky-Berger are hopeful that this developing partnership will help prepare future teachers to become leaders in education and advocates for educational advancement, hopefully at Akiva, and wherever else their careers may take them.