UT3 is a 5 year US Department of Education Teacher Quality Enhancement project that recruits, prepares, and supports highly qualified math and science teachers for middle and secondary schools in urban settings. Through UT3, students can be awarded a $12,800 scholarship with the stipulation that they teach in a high needs school as a way to “pay back the loan”. Under the recruitment component, the project developed a course entitled “Exploring Teaching Math & Science in Urban Schools.”
Initially it was designed to provide people who were on the fence about the teaching profession with an introduction to what teaching was like. The project’s recruiting targeted current students enrolled in math or science content areas as well as engineering and pharmacy students, recent graduates from those content areas, and STEM professionals who were considering a career change. We operated under the assumption that we could entice people to become teachers who may not have considered the profession previously. The course was developed around research findings that indicate that the most common reason a person chooses the teaching profession is because they have experienced some type of positive teaching situation and found it appealing. Most frequent examples include informal teaching like coaching, tutoring, working with children in clubs like the scouts, or teaching for a religious youth study group. So if a mechanical engineering student decides, for example, engineering is not for her, but has never had a teaching experience, rewarding or otherwise, how might she know that teaching is the right career switch? The purpose of Exploring was to provide that experience. This 3 semester hour course provides students with the opportunity to get a taste of what teaching in that environment is all about. In this case, course objectives include not only the attainment of new knowledge but also an attitudinal change based upon participation in a variety of activities. The course was first offered Fall 2005 and has been offered each semester since. The course itself provides students with background, training, tools, and practice prior to allowing them to actually teach. A lot of time is spent observing teachers (both video and direct observation), discussions about and exploration of different teaching styles and approaches, the unique aspects of teaching in an urban school, and student reflections (journals) about what they are observing and what they are learning about teaching. Initial formative evaluation results showed that students wanted more time in the field so after the first year we increased the field experience from 2 hours to 10 hours. During the first year, students prepared a 10 minute lesson and taught it to their fellow students. Subsequent years, based on feedback from our students, the lesson assignment was expanded to create a 45 minute lesson and it was actually taught to middle or junior high school students.
With the original intention of the course in mind, I developed a survey based upon research that measured commonly held stereotypes about the teaching profession. The survey consisted of 17 statements with which students indicated their level of agreement. The survey was administered at the beginning and ending of the semester to examine change. The Likert-type scale was converted from an ordinal to an interval scale using Rasch modeling. The person reliability for the survey was 0.81 and the item reliability was 0.79. Examination of the probability curves for the six ratings in the scale indicated quite a bit of overlap between categories 2 and 3 and categories 4 and 5. In other words, respondents were not clearly distinguishing between these categories. The questionable categories were collapsed and the resulting four categories were used in the analysis. The new categories included: 1 = no agreement; 2 = less than 50% agreement; 3 = 50% or more agreement; and 4 = 100% agreement. The new probability curves showed clear separation and normal distribution between these four categories. Results showed that some stereotypes was being corrected but in most cases attitudinal change was not statistically significantly different. For the majority of items, it appeared that students did not really possess that many stereotypes. However, recruiting for our program remained difficult. I found that the problem did not lie in a reluctance to teach due to common stereotypes but rather a reluctance to teach in an urban school. This was not determined by examining survey results because the survey did not specifically target urban teaching (although some items dealt with cultural responsiveness) but rather through informal group interviews with students. In addition, the course was evolving and became a substitute for a required course in the College of Education. As a result, we were getting more and more students in the course who were convinced they wanted to be teachers and yet had no interest in working in an urban school.
What I found was that the interviews with the students were providing me with a richer picture of what was occurring as a result of participating in the Exploring course than the quantitative survey. So I redesigned the survey to include three demographic questions (gender, type of high school they themselves attended, and year of HS graduation) and 5 open-ended questions that asked about their perceptions of what an urban classroom and school would be like. The questions on the revised survey were based upon the stereotypes most commonly held by previous students and also research about the reasons people shy away from teaching in an urban, high needs school. Another reason I chose a qualitative approach is because of the effect the linking of one's physical and social environment has on behavior. While I did not make actual observations, I analyzed student essay responses as though they were interview transcripts looking for themes, repeated words and comparing responses from the pretest and posttest. I also created an ethnographic summary of the changes in attitude (or lack of change).
Fall of 2008, 10 of the students in Exploring completed both the pretest and posttest. The first question asks how academically prepared students in urban schools are when compared with students in rural and suburban schools. On the pretest, 90% felt the urban students were not as well prepared. On the posttest, 80% felt the preparation was equal to that of rural and suburban school students. As far as the physical environment, 60% thought that classrooms/schools would be run-down, lack resources, and be bland or barren. After the field experience, none of the students felt that the urban classrooms were in poor condition or lacked resources and materials. When asked to what extent behavioral issues will be part of teaching in an urban school, 80% felt it would be a greater issue in an urban school than in other types of schools on the pretest. Almost 90% of those who felt it would be a major problem showed some difference in opinion after the field experience. During the field experience, 30% witnessed no behavioral problems. 50% acknowledged that these types of problems were present but that they also observed strategies for handling them effectively. Prior to their field experience, students had mixed feelings about what actually teaching would be like. All were looking forward to it although 40% indicated some degree of nervous anticipation. Reviewing the post experience survey was more revealing as to specifics that they had anticipated. 70% of the students indicated that the field experience was more than what they expected. 50% specifically noted how well-behaved, respectful and cooperative the students were and how enjoyable it was to help the children learn. Only one respondent had a negative experience noting, “The teacher did not trust students, kids didn’t care, materials were old”.
This is a rather rudimentary way to look at the results from the analysis. Because I work with busy people who like charts that get to the point, I developed this simplistic way of examining attitudinal change. Less indicates that the student expected the urban students to be less academically prepared, school buildings to be less clean and modern, and student behavior to be less acceptable than rural and suburban schools and students. The goal of Exploring is to help pre-service teachers to feel competent to work in urban schools.
I began my coding by using expected themes; however other themes did emerge as I read through the data. I use NVivo 8 to manage my data. This software allows you to search your data for specific words and for pre-coded themes. The themes I expected included those above. They are pretty straightforward but after I started coding these themes I realized that the questions I asked actually overlapped the themes. NVivo has an autocode function that allows me to code by question. In that way I can pull up all of the responses to a question and look at them as a whole.
Here is an example of one student’s pretest and posttest response. What do you see here?
How has this student’s perception of academic preparation changed?
And this one?
Measuring effectiveness of introduction to teaching
effectiveness of an
introduction to urban
Gale A. Mentzer, Ph.D.
Judith Herb College of Education
The University of Toledo
Fall 2008 Results
Pretest Posttest Pretest Posttest Pretest Posttest
urban less less equal equal less less 1
urban less equal equal better equal equal 3
urban equal less equal less better 3
suburban less equal less equal less equal 3
suburban less less less less less equal 1
suburban equal equal less equal less better 3
suburban less equal less equal less less 2
suburban equal better less equal equal better 3
suburban less equal equal better less less 2
rural equal equal less equal less equal 3
change 6 8 6
Total equal or better 8 9 7
What do you expect the
physical environment of the
urban classroom to be like?
Pretest: Crowded classrooms, limited supplies
Posttest: Newer school, clean large classroom
wide hallways that were still very crowded
in morning before homeroom. Classroom
How academically prepared do
you believe urban students
Pretest: I do not know for sure but the impression I have
is that urban students are not as academically
prepared as their suburban counterparts. This
impression comes from the continuing need for
teachers and constant reports of poor performance
Posttest: As well as the students wants to be. The
opportunity to learn is there but requires the student
to be motivated.
How supportive are parents of
children in urban schools?
Pretest: I don't believe they are supportive. This is a
general statement, I know there are exceptions. Two
reasons why: 1) the parent is not educated well; 2)
they are not around as much because they are
working to pay bills.
Posttest: I was fortunate to sit in on parent-teacher
conferences and I think the parents are supportive,
but they are often not completely involved. In some
cases the parents’ education level was probably not
capable of helping their child.