MONTREAL, AUGUST 31, 2011- Student teachers traditionally begin working in schools once the academic year is well underway. However, that is not the case at seven English Montreal School Board (EMSB) elementary schools.
When the opening bell sounded on August 31, a group of student teachers were on the job at Honoré Mercier in St. Léonard, Gerald McShane in Montreal North, Leonardo Da Vinci Academy in RDP., Bancroft in the Plateau, Coronation in Côte des Neiges, Sinclair Laird in Park Extension and Westmount Park.
The student teachers have been in place since August 25, which was the first official work day for regular teachers. This is all part of a unique project called the Alternative Approach to McGill Third-year Fall Semester: Full-term, School-based, Integrated Professional Semester. David Dillon of the McGill University Faculty of Education is the coordinator.
One of the student teachers at Honoré Mercier is Laura Dell'Aquila, who is thrilled to be returning to her old school in this capacity. “I attended Honoré Mercier from 1990 to 1997,” she said. “I am very excited to be a student teacher at my old elementary school. I'm looking forward to teaching Grade 5 over the next few months and getting to experience Honoré Mercier from a teacher's perspective.”
Mr. Dillon is particularly pleased with how the program has worked since its launch in 2004. “The start of school is unlike any other time of the year in that it focuses primarily on getting organized for learning, but especially in setting a tone for the upcoming year, creating a sense of community in the class, and developing relationships with the pupils,” he says. “In addition, research shows fairly clearly that how the school year starts for a teacher determines to a large extent how the entire year goes. Therefore, I place my students in my participating schools from the very beginning of the school years, beginning with the teacher pedagogical days, in order for them to learn how to manage this very important time of the year.
“My goal is that, when they get their own classroom after graduation, they will be much better prepared to have a successful start to their own school year--and a successful year. The early years of teaching are challenging enough for new teachers. If they have never experienced the start of a school year in their teacher education program, as is true of many programs, they face even greater challenges--and risks--as new teachers. Finally, my goal is also to support the cooperating teachers and the host school at the beginning of the year through the presence and help of the McGill student teachers, since it is such a stressful and challenging time. My hope is that both students and school win as a result of this program.”
Mr. Dillon notes that while the experience of the term can be a demanding one, student teachers generally agree that they benefit enormously from it. “More specifically,” he says, “student teachers are viewed more as teachers by children, by being ‘insiders’ when the children arrive at the start of the school year. They experience the uniqueness of the start of a school year, thus demystifying it for them and making them more confident of being able to do it themselves as new teachers and they feel more and more like ‘real’ teachers and less like student teachers over the term, developing strong ability and confidence.”
This project was successfully piloted with 28 students in four schools (Coronation, Dorset, Thorndale and Westmount Park) in 2004 and expanded to 56 students in 13 schools for the fall of 2007, using schools in both the Lester B. Pearson school board (Children’s World, Dorset, Greendale, Purcell, Springdale, Thorndale) and EMSB. Since the fall of 2008, the Faculty of Education has set an enrolment limit of 40 students for this project
Mr. Dillon plans to visit all of the schools to make brief, informal visits to start getting to know the students and to reconnect via weekly afternoon regional seminars during the week of September 5.