Teacher Education

Teaching Interns and Mentors: A Perfect Match [Podcast]

Teaching Interns and Mentors: A Perfect Match [Podcast]

A tense mentor intern relationship may cause problems down the road. That’s why Dr Michelle Adler, the elementary education program chair at Wichita State University is finding a program that carefully matches student teaching interns with their mentors. On today’s episode of the Teacher Education Podcast, Michelle and I discuss her research and ideas for strengthening candidates’ relationships with faculty and mentors. Michelle is an engaging and warm guest, so I know you’ll enjoy this episode.

Dr. Michelle Adler, welcome to the Teacher Education Podcast. (00:04)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Good morning. (00:41)

Well, reading your CV, I noticed that you’re a three-time all American and track. (00:42)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Yes. (00:48)

Is that correct? (00:49)

Dr. Michelle Adler: That is correct. I’ve been a runner my whole life and still run now. It’s good therapy. Good for all different parts of my world. But yeah, started running early, ran through college, and still run now. (00:51)

So I’m curious, do you have an experience as a competitive athlete that’s informed or influenced you as you have pursued a professional career in teacher preparation? (01:06)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Yes. One thing you learn in collegiate sports, in particular, is that you’re capable of way more than you originally thought. You’re recruited because there’s potential there and they see that and often it’s potential you don’t even know about. And so, that has really influenced what I’m capable of doing but it’s also helped me understand that looking at someone and saying, “I see potential,” is huge. It’s understanding there’s more here than what I thought and going above and beyond what you think you’re capable of. And students need to hear that, teachers need to hear that. And certainly, my start is as an athlete hinged on that notion. I can do more. (01:16)

Welcome to Wichita State University

Now, just to let our audience know. You’ve been an assistant professor at Wichita State University for several years now, and for some of us who aren’t familiar with your school, could you tell us a little bit about Wichita State University? What makes it similar to other teacher prep programs? Maybe how it’s unique? (02:03)

Dr. Michelle Adler: So, Wichita State is located in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita is the largest school district which ties USD259, the largest school district in the state. There are over 39 elementary schools. We utilize 14 of them in the elementary education program. We are very urban-centered, Wichita State is located in the middle of Wichita. And we pride ourselves on really working with urban schools. And so, our students who come from all over the state and often have very rural and suburban teaching experiences come to us and learn how to work with students who have much more diversity within classrooms. Lots of ESOL students. And so, that’s what makes us significantly different from the other institutions within Kansas. (02:20)

Matching Student Teaching Interns and Mentors

So, at the ATE conference this year, you propose that supervisors should carefully match interns with mentor teachers. Can you tell me a little bit more about your research and your findings? (03:13)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Yes. So, a couple of years ago we started taking time as professors and university supervisors to really make a good match between our teaching interns and the cooperating teachers or the mentors. It used to be that we had someone at the university who just matched people. Here’s a teacher who wants an intern, here’s an intern, we’ll put them together. Now what we do is we consider what does the intern need? What is the teacher really strong in as a classroom teacher, maybe she’s very good at using specific strategies for teaching. Maybe she’s very good in classroom management, maybe she’s really good at differentiating instruction. (03:27)

And we match our teaching interns with those teachers. On our side we also think through, what do we know about this teaching intern? Do they need really specific feedback? Are they very outgoing and really need to be with a teacher who’s also very outgoing. Another one that really matters is if our intern is very organized in a really serious planner, we need to put them with a cooperating teacher who’s also like that, so they can see what their world might look like when it’s their turn to teach. So, we thoughtfully place our teaching interns with their mentor teachers now. (04:09)

We place teaching interns with a cooperating mentor who's like them, so they can see what their world might like when it's their turn to teach. —Dr. Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcasat Share on X

What have been the benefits as you’ve been doing this? Have you seen any demonstrable changes? (04:47)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Yes, so we did two different rounds of research. The first round was very qualitative. We just did a survey of our students before when they were placed randomly, and then a survey after when they were placed thoughtfully and all of them said being thoughtfully placed, they felt like they started out quicker and got traction more efficiently when they were with the teacher who they were thoughtfully placed with. They made those connections sooner and we know that those connections really are important as they start to build a relationship with one another. (04:52)

We then did a second study where we looked at the data from a more quantitative standpoint. And what we saw was that the students based on a survey, again, this though had some numbers attached to it. They had significantly better experiences when they were placed with teachers who were thoughtfully chosen for them. And again, a lot of it had to do with three things. One had to do with the personality of the intern and the cooperating teacher. Were they both outgoing? Were they both a more reserved? (05:27)

The second one had to do with experience for some of our teaching interns, they really wanted to be with a teacher who had been in the field for quite some time and had that knowledge base. Other student teaching interns wanted to be with someone who was younger and they could learn together. And so we paired that together. And then the third thing where interests outside of teaching. And so, the first two mattered more than the third one. What we found is if they could build a relationship in the classroom, a relationship outside of the classroom flowed naturally from that. (05:58)

How much time do you think this adds to actually personalize the matching? (06:29)

Dr. Michelle Adler: It’s a bit of a task. We’re getting better at it. This is our third year to be really thoughtful about how we place students. The first year took forever hours and hours. Now we have it much more streamlined, and so, we have sheets of paper we lay out. The final day which we call it the match day, it’s two or three hours to match. We have about 40-60 teaching interns we’re trying to find good places for, and it does take some time, but what we see are the benefits that we often have really strong relationships. (06:34)

You may have to do more work on the front side, but what we see when they’re out in the field is interns really learning and building relationships from quality, cooperating and mentor teachers. And that takes some of the time off of us, time that we may have to go in and work with teachers and try to build these relationships between these two people. These happen more naturally because we’ve been careful in how we’ve paired people. (07:12)

The Enrollment Shortage

That’s really interesting. It sounds like it’s been fairly successful. What other daunting challenges is your program facing? (07:38)

Dr. Michelle Adler: I would say the biggest one that we’re facing is just the lack of interest in becoming an educator right now. And I will say, I don’t even think it’s a lack of interest. It’s a perception of what the education field is, and so, people who maybe had considered teaching are getting really mixed messages on the value of being an educator and so enrollment declines as a result. (07:46)

Is there anything that you’ve been doing that’s successful in getting more students in your door? (08:13)

Dr. Michelle Adler: One thing we’re trying to do is pair with the neighboring schools, or community colleges around here so they can see a nice pipeline from a community college straight into Wichita State. And still get it done cost-efficient, but also get a quality degree out of that. In our program, we are looking at in the next year enrolling a merge program where students would graduate with licensure in special education, and in elementary education. While there’s a shortage of teachers in elementary ed in many areas, there’s this real shortage of special education teachers nationwide, and so the districts have commented they need that. (08:18)

The biggest problem we're facing is just the lack of interest in becoming an educator right now. —Dr. Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcast Share on X

You shouldn’t have to get a masters to be able to teach special ed, and that’s really what has had to happen in the state of Kansas prior to now. Now, there’s an avenue to come out of an undergrad program with a special ed degree. We’re also cognizant of the fact that when you’re student teaching, it’s really hard to hold a job. And so, we are partnering with 259, and our students can get some subbing experience and make some money subbing while they’re student teaching. (09:00)

Wow. (09:31)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Yes, we’re really excited about that but that we’re enrolled out this semester. And so once a week they have the opportunity to sub in the in their building and make some money, while still really honing their skills and getting good supervision. We hear from our students that last semester was so hard. Many of them have to quit their job, they’ve been working some during the week. We have a lot of students who work, and so, it’s tough that last semester to know there’s unless you work in our education, we have students who’ve been doing things in the schools, but you can’t that last semester. (09:32)

It is a great way for our students to make up to $1,500 during the course of their teaching internship semester. —Dr. Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcast Share on X

So, we’re really excited about this opportunity, which top public schools we’re quick to partner with us on this, and we see it as a great way for our students to make up to $1,500 during the course of the semester while really still working on their craft and getting good supervision. (10:07)

Building Relationships with Candidates

That’s really interesting. I like that. Is there something that your program is doing that’s working particularly well that you’re proud of? (10:26)

Dr. Michelle Adler: What we’re really working on here is building those relationships so that our students get us as juniors, and we supervise and help them grow all the way through their four semesters of what we would consider to be their professional experiences. While we’re a fairly good-sized program, we have them in cohorts and in smaller groups and we get to know our students really well. The research that this group of learners, this generation, while they love technology, they really thrive with relationships. (10:35)

And this is the generation that comes to office hours. This is the generation that wants to build a relationship and we’re finding that they really flourish when they are given that opportunity. So, when they’re supervised out in the field, they build a relationship with me and I supervise them several different semesters. We have found that those relationships really help them grow. (11:08)

And so, I’m really proud of how much we are investing in the students themselves. When they leave our program, I can write a personalized strong reference letter because I know them. I’ve had them as students, I’ve seen them out in the field, I’ve watched them teach, I know their cooperating teachers, I know their goals, I know what we’ve worked on. That’s what grows good teachers are the relationships and the feedback and we’re able to provide that because of the way our program is structured. (11:31)

When a student teacher leaves our program, I can write a personalized, strong letter because I know them. —Dr. Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcast Share on X

Teaching Strategies

I noticed on your resume that a few years ago you were awarded the excellence in teaching award for WSU. And I was curious, what has helped you successfully switch from teaching elementary students to university students? (11:59)

Dr. Michelle Adler: I would say I didn’t change very much. The strategies I used to keep my fifth graders engaged or to provide professional learning and experiences for my colleagues are the same strategies that I use today. I model group work, we do activities, we build relationships within the class. If I want my students to use Kagan strategies out in the field and then I’m going to use Kagan strategies in my classroom. If I want my students to build relationships with their future students, then I’m going to emphasize that in my own classes and make sure that everyone in there feels connected to everyone else. (12:46)

I believe a high energy classroom is the most effective way to engage them and to keep them going. And so I teach, I call it big and loud. We do a lot. We move a lot. I tell stories about my own kids, about my family, about what I see out in the field and that tends to resonate with my students. (13:26)

I believe a high energy classroom is the most effective way to teach university students.—Dr. Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcast Share on X

The Role of Technology in Teacher Prep

And I’ve also noticed that you’ve written on topics about millennial learning styles and social media teaching. What do you think is the role of technology in teacher preparation? (13:48)

Dr. Michelle Adler: That’s hard because I’ve wrestled back and forth with it. I do think that being able to communicate with emails and speed up ways to talk is super important. I love having a professional Facebook page where I can push out information and show them where to go when they have questions about things. But nothing beats asking someone questions and being face to face and having that give and take. I really think that our students need to have the opportunity to experience both. Certainly, students want to have some online opportunities. (14:00)

While I don’t love teaching online all the time, I value what it can be when it’s done well, when we respond quickly to students, when we have videos or we can interact with Zoom or different things like that. So, I think there’s a place for technology. But I don’t think we can ever forget the value of face to face communication, and ultimately as teachers, that’s what we do. We’re going into a field where being able to communicate with your colleagues, being able to communicate with parents. (14:36)

While there’s still a technology aspect to the parents’ side of things, we do meet with them for parent-teacher conferences. We do have times where we want them to come in and visit face to face. Our students must know how that looks. If you have spent your entire high school career with your face in your phone, and you’ve utilized mostly Instagram and Twitter and things like that, your social skills are going to be a little different. And so, sometimes our job as professors is to model what we want. If I want them to build good relationships with parents and know how to speak professionally with other adults, then I better be able to do it myself. So, I view this as a modeling opportunity. (15:08)

The Magic Wand Question

That makes sense. And then finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about teacher education in the United States, what would it be? (15:51)

Dr. Michelle Adler: I think it would be that there are ongoing and continued partnerships between strong public education, teachers, leaders in schools, and teacher prep. I think I have worked with amazing colleagues. I also know that there are some fabulous teachers that I don’t know about that are just down the street from me, and we need to utilize those. We also need to be very cognizant of what’s out in our schools. What are we preparing our students to do? And the best way to do that is to build bridges between public ed and higher ed. And so, if I could wave a magic wand, it would be that we were able to utilize each other more. That public ed could come in and teach more for us and mentor more. (16:00)

If I could wave a magic wand, there would be ongoing and continued partnerships between public school teachers and leaders and teacher prep. —Michelle Adler, The Teacher Education Podcast Share on X

We do a good job of that here, but we could continue to grow in that. But also that we go into the schools, and work with the teachers, that the new research and the new things we’re trying to see and learn about, and do we have time to do reading in higher Ed, and to look at the research. Classroom teachers don’t have time for that, and they shouldn’t. They’re busy doing their things, but we can come in and support them in those ways. We have a great partnership with 259, but I always think it could be better. (16:55)

We could always have bigger partnerships with our rural districts. What do our teachers that are located three and four hours away from big cities? What do they need? What would be the best support for them? So, that’s my hope is that we can continue to build the bridges between Public Ed and Higher Ed. We’re doing a nice job, I guess I wish it could go faster. (17:26)

Lightning Round

So we also like to do a lightning round. Basically, I ask you questions that require a word to a sentence answers and we just go through them really quickly. Last book you read and enjoyed. (17:49)

Dr. Michelle Adler:  Irene as children. It was about the Holocaust. (18:02)

Favorite conference to attend? (18:08)

Dr. Michelle Adler: ATE or NATE. (18:11)

Most trusted teacher prep source? (18:14)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. (18:18)

One piece of advice for people trying to build better relationships with their students. (18:20)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Listen, and hold tight to when they come to you and have things to say. Listen first. Sometimes you don’t even need to talk. Listen. (18:25)

Thank you so much, Dr. Adler. I’ve really appreciated talking to you. I’ve learned quite a bit about strenghting relationships between teacher interns and mentors, and I’m sure our audience did as well. (18:33)

Dr. Michelle Adler: Thank you, and a pleasure. (18:40)


That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe. If you like what you heard, please rate and review this podcast to help others find us. The Teacher Education podcast is brought to you by GoReact. This episode was hosted by me, Hillary Gamblin and produced by Danielle Burt, Joseph Winter, and Jordan Harris. Chad Jardine is our executive producer. Guests on the podcast are expressing personal opinions for informational purposes only. They’re not acting as official representatives for their universities or organizations. (18:42)