Michael Pearcy (’14), a seventh-grade math teacher at R.A. Jones Middle School in Florence, Kentucky, takes to the whiteboard lining his classroom’s front wall. Today’s lesson is on binomials, and numbers fill the board as Pearcy writes out strings of algebraic equations.
He’s passionate about mathematics, and Pearcy’s students are lucky to have him for a teacher (even if they aren’t all crazy about the subject). The lesson is an important one, and Pearcy is able to teach it confidently because of his own student experience, when he trained at Jones while a student of Northern Kentucky University.
“NKU really focuses on understanding the development and making sure you have that experience,” Pearcy says. “They make sure you’re ready to be in any setting.”
NKU’s middle grades education program recently took a huge step forward in developing classroom-ready teachers by partnering with Jones to move teacher preparation out of the college classroom and into a school context. Jones principal Tony Pastura (’07) initiated the partnership with NKU, approaching the middle grades education program with an idea to help prepare the next generation of teachers. “This partnership was needed,” he says. “It provides better support of the kiddos. You’ve got more young professionals in the building, and there are opportunities for one-on-one attention.”
The partnership addresses a key component of the middle grades education program, a requirement for the college students to complete two professional semesters and gain clinical experience. Jones now serves as the site for several of these classes—students take three college courses at the middle school, of which one course is a field experience, and prepare for the teaching profession in what is essentially a teaching laboratory. As an added bonus, the teachers and administrative staff—many of whom are NKU alumni themselves—are able to guide and mentor the future teachers.
NKU student Loryn Gavula (pictured above) is one of these future teachers, and she took classes at R.A. Jones four days a week during the spring 2018 semester, including demo classes wherein Jones students join the college class to learn from NKU students. Demo classes allow NKU students to put their lesson plans into action to see firsthand how well—or not so well—these plans would work in practice. The classes also help the university students connect with their middle schoolers, an important element of middle grade education.
“I’ve learned the importance of building relationships with the kids,” says Loryn. “You see them not only in your placement, but you see them around and they’ll say ‘hey’ or they’ll hug you.”
The Jones connection, as a formal partnership, seemed destined for success after previous NKU students, like Pearcy, turned professional semesters at the middle school into long-term teaching careers. And Pearcy isn’t the only alum sticking around. Sixth-grade language arts teacher Amy Parlier (’12) was also placed at the middle school based on the time she spent there during her professional semesters.
“I think working here for my practicum had a big effect on why I got hired,” she says. “The principal at the time called me and said ‘I have a job here for you and I need you to apply for it.’” She says that school officials knew she was prepared because they’d worked with her during her undergraduate preparation.
The partnership with Jones provided a similar experience for recent NKU graduate Gabby Frerman (‘18). Frerman will start her teaching career at Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger, Kentucky, teaching seventh grade language arts in the upcoming school year, and she feels prepared thanks to her experience at Jones.
“You’re just really in the environment the whole time and I think that’s really important,” Gabby says. “[The students] seeing us there three days a week really helped build that, we’re not here to use you guys to get an education. We care about what happens to you while we’re getting an education.
“I think it’s cool that NKU is really trying to move forward with their middle grades program,” she says. “Not a lot people decide to be middle school teachers, and I feel that middle schoolers need more help than anybody.”
Gabby says the new program allows NKU students to really understand what it’s like to be a middle grades school teacher. And though she understands that the partnership benefits Jones as much as it does NKU’s middle grades education program, she also understands the tremendous gain the Jones site provides.
“I’m just glad they let us invade their school for a semester.”
For more information about NKU's middle grades education program, contact Shawn Faulkner at firstname.lastname@example.org.