UMass Amherst-Chestnut School Partnership Chosen to Help Define What Aspiring Teachers Need

AMHERST, Mass. - A University of Massachusetts program begun three years ago to give graduate students experience in a public school setting has been selected as one of 20 sites nationwide to develop future standards for middle-school educators.

The program, "180 Days in Springfield," was chosen to develop middle-school standards by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Some 95 colleges and 200 schools across the U.S. had applied. As one of the sites chosen, the program was awarded a $12,500 grant for three years.

"180 Days in Springfield" was created three years ago by UMass professor Robert Maloy of the teacher education and curriculum studies department. "The program immerses student-teachers in the classroom," says Maloy. "It’s like a teaching hospital. Rather than simply take classes about teaching, our students actually experience teaching in a real classroom."

The year-long, urban school-based program entails two semesters of integrated teaching and graduate study in either Chestnut Accelerated Middle School or Central High School in Springfield (the Chestnut site was the one chosen by NCATE). Student-teachers begin the program at the end of August and remain in Chestnut or Central for the entire 180-day school year. Participants work with students throughout this process in various roles, initially as tutors or assistant teachers, eventually as beginning teachers working together as a team.

According to Maloy, these experiences offer student-teachers daily interactions with colleagues, students, and professional educators. Combined with graduate courses at UMass, the program provides a perfect forum for teacher development, Maloy says.

"This program proves that there is more to preparing student-teachers than having them take a test," says Maloy. "Our notion has always been that immersion in the work is most important. After all, you don’t get a driver’s license by just taking a written exam – you have to get out there and actually drive on the road."

Serving approximately 1,000 students, Chestnut is a performing arts magnet school. The second middle school in Massachusetts selected as an Accelerated School, it has been recognized by the NCATE as a groundbreaking model, says Maloy. Chestnut also features a number of outstanding initiatives, according to Maloy, such as being the only middle school in the city with a program aimed at gifted and talented students.