With graduation just eight months away, many seniors are still unsure what they will be doing with their degree. With one out of two college graduates unable to find a job, many opt for graduate school to make them more marketable, or at least delay having to pay their student loans back.
For students who are interested in teaching, but aren’t studying secondary education, a unique new graduate program is rounding its final year. The four-year-young Teacher Immersion Residency program, established under a federal grant offered to Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education, is a rigorous, intensive school-based residency program focused on local high-need schools.
“We’re like Teach for America, but with way more support,” said program coordinator Dr. Megan Britt.
The TIR program takes talented, non-education majors, giving them on-the-job training, and in 12 months, graduates them with a master’s degree and Virginia teaching license.
The real selling point is the program guarantees its graduates a job teaching in the Norfolk or Portsmouth public school system for three years.
“In a super tight job market, getting admitted to TIR is like getting one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets,” said Britt, and the ticket is “incredibly sweet.”
If guaranteed job placement isn’t incentive enough, TIR students get a $25,000 stipend, their tuition paid, and a laptop computer with a free wireless card.
The program only enrolls “the best of the best,” said Britt. “Our program is an alternative path to getting a teaching license and admission is exclusive.”
Admitted applicants must have a degree in math, English, earth science, biology, chemistry, social studies or physics, have GRE scores over 1000 and GPA’s of 3.0 or better. Britt spoke highly of past and former students, of which come from a variety of backgrounds.
“Our TIR’s are not only academically talented, they are also extraordinary people. They are content experts who can translate well to kids. They are bright people and with us they learn how to engage students. That’s no easy task. Today’s classrooms are challenging,” said Britt.
Amanda Yaden, a graduate of the program who teaches high school mathematics in Norfolk, said she learned much more than just pedagogical strategy, but also how to submit reports, make time for grading, find necessary supplies a teacher may need that are hard to come by and how to compensate for the lack thereof, and knowing who to communicate with in the faculty regarding her students.
“I have had to adapt to several kinds of environments throughout my life and this situation was no different. One major change…was discovering my own self-confidence in front of a group of people, especially teenagers,” said Yaden.
Tashiana Verna, a current TIR, said she wasn’t keen on the idea of becoming a teacher for reasons, she said, were generational. In other words, she didn’t want to deal with students with a propensity for insolence, something she feels is characteristic of the upcoming generation.
While attending Norfolk State University, majoring in chemistry, she became involved in the DNIMAS program (Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Science), established in 1985 to address the small portion of minorities in science.
She originally intended to become a doctor, but the DNIMAS required her to tutor other students and the notion of becoming a teacher became more realistic. “I realized my heart no longer desired to become a doctor,” said Verna. “Students would always tell me I was very good at breaking down chemistry concepts, and would often invite their classmates into our sessions.”
Soon, Verna developed an affinity for teaching, and her peers, tutees and advisors convinced her to pursue a career in education. “I am very passionate about learning and teaching chemistry. This passion of chemistry added to my purpose as an educator [and] brought me to my destiny, which is starting right here in the Teacher Immersion Residency program,” said Verna.
The TIR program’s approach to teacher preparation is fairly cutting edge and aligns well with United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s vision of strong teacher preparation programs.
At a recent U.S. Department of Education forum, Duncan stressed his preference for teaching residencies, where new teachers learn their craft from veteran teachers, while tracking student progress from September to June.
Yearlong training means rookie teachers see all inner workings of a school and better comprehend the career challenges, an approach that positively influences both beginning teacher preparedness and teacher retention.
Jody Sommerfeldt, an alumni of William & Mary’s psychology and elementary education program and current instructor with the TIR program, said “Wayne Gretsky, when asked why he was such a great hockey player, replied ‘I don’t skate to where the puck has been. I skate to where it is going.’”
Sommerfeldt said ODU’s TIR program is, “doing just that. We are moving to where education is headed, with immersion into authentic experiences, quality instruction, couple with the support of wonderful mentors and coaches. It is a recipe for success.”
As demanding as the program is, “our support is unparalleled,” added Britt. For students still unsure of their career path but certain on not accumulating more debt, the Teach Immersion Residency program is a truly invaluable opportunity.
As the TIR program operates under a United States Department of Education grant, it is time-limited. “We’ve got one recruiting class left,” said Britt. “If there is an ODU senior who wants to teach, get a degree in one year, and not go into debt… this is his or her chance.”
By: Derek Page