A Tutoring Partnership Grows in Texas, Part 1
This is the first in a series on a partnership between Dallas College School of Education (SOE) and Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to mobilize aspiring teachers as tutors in high-need schools.
Jana Barnett, Associate Dean of Educator Certification at Dallas College School of Education (SOE), believes the only way to know whether you’re ready to become a teacher is to teach—a hands-on approach she refers to as “getting baptized” into the profession.
For the aspiring teachers whose development she oversees at Dallas College SOE, this ‘baptism’ occurs earlier than in most teacher preparation programs. That’s thanks to an innovative collaboration between the College and Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to mobilize aspiring teachers as tutors in local schools.
The collaboration is part of the Vetted Texas Tutor Corps, which supports districts to achieve statutory requirements outlined in HB4545—namely, the provision of supplementary instruction to any students in grades 3-8 who did not meet proficiency on the state standardized assessment.
To meet this need and the broader challenge of unfinished learning brought about by COVID-19, approximately two dozen teacher-candidates from Dallas College are serving as tutors in the inaugural year—a figure expected to more than triple in the upcoming school year.
The Unique Benefit of Hands-On Experience
In addition to the immediate benefit to local K-12 students, Barnett explains a parallel aim of the initiative is to give “teacher-candidates real-world, hands-on experience in the classroom” so they can “get that exposure early on in their education program.”
According to Barnett, early field experiences like these are relatively unique. “In traditional programs a lot of students are just told to sit at the back and observe,” she explains. By contrast, the tutoring approach promises what she calls a “deep dive” into the real work of teaching.
Good for Future Teachers, Good for Schools
Representing DISD in this collaboration is Jason Wallace, Director of the Office of Tutoring Services for the district. He has seen firsthand the benefits of the opportunity and how tutors have “energized the campuses” where they work. Their presence, he says, is “making a healthier school.”
Barnett agrees. “It’s one-on-one and smaller groups, so they’re able to ask questions freely and really get feedback from their tutor.” Her reflections are entirely in keeping with what we know about small teacher-student ratios and their impact on learning in tutoring contexts in particular.
Strengthening Ties Between District and Teacher Prep
This work has built on an already-strong relationship between Dallas College and DISD as both organizations strive to strengthen teacher pipelines across the region.
Placing dozens of aspiring teachers into schools doesn’t come without its challenges. Both Barnett and Wallace note how everything from background checks to hosting tutors in geographically accessible schools made for some growing pains at the outset of the collaboration. Nevertheless, they believe their partnership has been made all the stronger by overcoming these barriers—and the benefits are there for all to see.
Tutoring experiences, says Barnett, end up doubling as “in-person, live action interviews with principals and administrators.” Now she gets phone calls from schools already interested in these teachers-in-waiting and asking “when will he or she graduate and get certified, because we want to hire them.”
Wallace sees similar value from the district’s perspective, sharing how the initiative offers a pathway for hiring that will help a new generation of teachers graduate from Dallas College SOE and join DISD. He says, “We’re training our future teachers who are going to be future teachers in our district—and that’s invaluable to both parties.”
A Path to Follow
Amidst rising concerns about teacher shortages, the partnership between Dallas College and DISD holds promise as a solution to Dallas’s teacher pipeline issues and as a model for other communities.
It clears the path for well-prepared, passionate teachers to find their way into schools who need their talents. Jana Barnett sums this up best when she says, “We need those people who have a love for teaching in the classroom. We don’t want them to leave within six months or a year of teaching. We want them to stay.”