Partners for teacher preparation

Alumna Julia Vradenburg, ’16, was part of a cohort of teacher candidates who had Longfellow Middle School as their clinical experience. She also had student teaching experience at Longfellow for the first, third and fourth quarters of the school year during her senior year at UWL. Now she works at the school full time.

School partnership with Longfellow Middle School uncovers teaching talent, provides real-world practice

Show of hands — how many parents want their child to have an average teacher?  

It’s no surprise that most parents — as well as most schools — are interested in recruiting the best. 

Longterm Principal Penny Reedy is well aware of the need to find the best teachers to work at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse. A partnership with UW-La Crosse’s School of Education through a Professional Development School relationship with the School District of La Crosse school is one way Reedy, who retired in April, has been able to observe teaching talent in action and hire teachers who meet what she considers the most important criteria.  

Reedy’s criteria are broader than a teacher candidate’s pedagogy. She looks for qualities that are harder to spot in an interview — the drive to teach and ability to build relationships with students, staff and the community.  

 “I can help teach you the pedagogy, but I can’t teach the other two,” says Reedy. “Culture is made by those three things — high mission, high ability to build relationships and high pedagogy.” 

Reedy has discovered many talented UWL student teacher candidates with these three qualities who’ve transitioned into full-time teachers at Longfellow Middle School through the Professional Development School partnership with UWL’s School of Education.   

The partnership is a win-win, says Reedy. The school’s experience with teacher candidates helps build a strong teaching workforce with a culture built around community and collaboration at her school. Meanwhile, UWL students benefit from important teaching preparation and insights about their career direction.  

During clinical experiences at Longfellow, students observe classrooms and partake in structured learning experiences. They also see school life outside the classroom, such as lunch duty and after-school supervision. They gain stronger insight about not only how they want to teach, but also what grade level and where. 

Alumna Rachel Arch took a full-time position at Longfellow after being a clinical student at La Crosse Design Institute, a project-based learning school within Longfellow Middle, along with completing student teaching at Longfellow in spring 2018.  

“Spending almost an entire school year at Longfellow/La Crosse Design Institute gave me the ability to really observe the day-to-day happenings in the school,” she says.” I was able to immerse myself in the school culture and I found it fit well with my teaching style and personality.” 

The teachers at Longfellow and La Crosse Design Institute treat clinical students as equals and involve them in the teaching process, says Arch.  

“I believe this gave me an idea of who I wanted to become as a teacher and what my teaching style is early on in my college career,” she explains. “It contributed a lot to my confidence in teaching.” 

Alumna Julia Vradenburg, ’16, also took a full-time position at Longfellow after clinical experience and student teaching there. She and Arch agree they were attracted to the school’s strong sense of community. Vradenburg felt like she could walk down the hall and ask any other teacher a question and they would be more than happy to help. 

“I loved the culture here at Longfellow,” she says. “When the sixth-grade position opened at Longfellow, it just felt right.”  

Vradenburg says clinical experience and student teaching were also valuable in finding career direction. She started out at UWL with the desire to become an elementary school teacher. But a clinical experience with sixth graders helped her see how exciting it was to teach middle-school-aged students. 

“In middle school, students are starting to form their own thoughts and becoming who they are as an individual, and you are helping them navigate that,” she says.  

Lexi Raatz, ’18, had a similar experience, finding a love of working with middle school students during clinical experience and student teaching at Longfellow. 

Raatz appreciates the “real-world conversations” she can have with middle school students who have diverse passions. 

 “I realized how powerful the middle school years were in students’ opinion of school, and I wanted to be someone who could make it a positive experience for as many students as possible,” she says. 

Raatz liked Longfellow’s use of technology in education, including one-to-one iPads to engage student in materials. Also, having the technology helped adapt tasks for all sorts of students, she says.   

“This kind of flexibility was what really drew me in. I saw that people were expected to be creative in their teaching and were allowed to try new things, even if mistakes were made,” she says. “Allowing teachers and students to be creative is what made Longfellow such an attractive place to work.”  

Vradenburg, who now teaches sixth grade social studies and language arts, continues to enjoy the Longfellow’s students and the teaching environment.  

She has come a long way since her first clinical and student teaching experience and is grateful for those introductions to teaching. It gave her practice handling moments in front of the class on her own — an experience that is afforded through a partnership with a school. 

“You can read all about it and watch other people doing it, but until you are actually in front of a class, you don’t know what it is like,” she says. 

Reedy says the partnership is a way for Longfellow to give back to the teaching profession, providing real-life, on-the-spot experience.  

What is a professional development school?  

Professional Development Schools (PDS) are schools that have joined with a university to accomplish educational goals that are mutually beneficial to each. A PDS is a collaboratively planned and implemented partnership for the academic and clinical preparation of teacher candidates and the continuous professional development of teachers. The design of a PDS partnership is based on outcomes for the PreK-12 students in the school with collaborative staff development and pre-service teacher preparation centered on those outcomes.? At a PDS, university courses are held within the school context.? These schools are clinical sites where cohorts of teacher candidates participate in structured learning experiences as part of their professional education programs. 

This story was featured in the spring 2019 issue of Eagle Edge, School of Education news.