A commitment to service, teaching

We all know the work of teachers is never done. Though some might believe that teachers only work from August to May, teachers' summer months are filled with reflection, personal development, and preparation. For new educators, the work seems even more all-consuming.

This summer, 23 new teachers were selected from more than 150 applicants throughout a rigorous selection process to become fellows with the Arkansas Teacher Corps (ATC). These budding educators began their careers with the seven-week ATC 2018 summer institute in northeast Arkansas.

The on-site residential summer institute provides foundational training for incoming fellows with 130 hours of professional development in the critical areas of planning, instruction, classroom culture, equity, and professionalism. Additionally, fellows are supported in applying theory through 20 hours of supervised teaching in Osceola School District's summer school.

Working from dawn to dusk, this teacher boot camp gives fellows a sampling of the many demands of teaching while layering social, emotional, and academic support. During the summer institute, fellows live together in the dorms at Arkansas State University, building the relationships and professional networks necessary for success. Conversations about teaching practices begin as early as 6 a.m. when fellows board a school bus en route to Osceola, take root in daily small-group debriefs, and continue throughout evening workshops.

While ATC summer training is structured to be an intensive and realistic teaching experience, we know that seven weeks cannot possibly prepare every teacher for every situation that might arise during their first year. Indeed, veteran educators tell us that even a full year of student-teaching experience didn't prepare them for the awesome responsibility of leading classrooms on their own; traditionally trained teachers also learn "on the job" during their beginning years.

Therefore, ATC support does not end when the fellows enter the classroom in August. ATC fellows receive school-specific mentoring and job-embedded support for three full years. Fellows engage in over 40 hours of professional development throughout each year in the program and are continually supported by ATC staff through classroom coaching that focuses on the unique needs of their students.

Coaches visit their fellows twice per month, provide feedback, and collaborate with them to review student data and create action plans that increase student achievement.

ATC teachers would benefit from an even longer and more comprehensive initial training, but unfortunately many schools serving low-income students have empty classrooms now, and cannot afford to wait. While affluent school districts across Arkansas might receive 40 or more applications for each open teaching position, ATC partner schools receive only two applications per vacancy on average. Consequently, ATC receives approximately 200 requests each year from school districts throughout eastern Arkansas.

In response to this need, ATC has been sending out cohorts of 25 new teachers for each of the past six years. This in no way fully meets the needs of our partner schools, but for us, quality trumps quantity. As ATC staff, we continually interrogate our methods to ensure that the teachers we train are meeting expectations and realizing measurable student growth.

In fact, ATC partners with researchers each year to conduct an external evaluation of the effectiveness of our fellows focused on classroom observations, student surveys, and student performance on the ACT Aspire exam.

The results have been positive and consistent: ATC fellows perform as effective or better than their non-ATC teacher peers with regard to classroom environment and instruction. Furthermore, though students of ATC teachers in all tested subjects perform on par with their peers and realize similar levels of growth, students rate their ATC teachers significantly higher than non-ATC teachers in the areas of instructional effectiveness and classroom relationships.

One reason that students think so highly of ATC teachers might be the diversity of our fellows. In fact, the diversity of ATC's teachers is one hallmark of the program. Of the 23 teachers in the 2018 cohort, 43 percent are people of color, 61 percent are first-generation college students, and 65 percent come from low-income communities themselves.

Additionally, 22 percent are hometown applicants already living and working in the communities where they now teach.

ATC and programs like it can provide an opportunity for a diverse group of committed and energetic leaders to serve traditionally under-served students.

Since the program began in 2013, ATC has recruited, trained, and supported more than 125 teachers who have served over 10,000 students in 30 Arkansas school districts. ATC teachers have taught 750-plus courses, led more than 100 clubs or teams, and written over 15 classroom grants. Moreover, eight ATC teachers have been named Teacher of the Year by their districts.

Perhaps most importantly, all ATC teachers share a commitment to Arkansas, a passion for their content, and an unwavering belief in their students' potential. If that sounds like you, ATC is now accepting applications for the 2019 Fellowship! College seniors and degree holders of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to apply online at www.arkansasteachercorps.org/join/.

Though a teacher's work is never done, we look forward to continuing this work in partnership with you.

Brandon Lucius, a native of eastern Arkansas, is executive director of Arkansas Teacher Corps. Gary Ritter founded ATC in 2013 and now serves as the chair of the ATC Advisory Board.

Editorial on 10/28/2018