Five questions for Mari Koerner

Mari Koerner is the dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC) at Arizona State University. MLFTC serves students on all four campuses of ASU and has almost 3,000 undergraduates enrolled in its teacher preparation programs. Recently, the college has been focused on making its programs more rigorous through an increased number of courses in core academic areas and a full-year residency program. The signature iTeachAZ experience requires and allows students to be fully immersed in partnership districts with a full-time clinical instructor at the site.

What was your first role working in education?
I was 20 years old when I graduated from college–the first woman from my family to take courses past high school. I knew one thing, and that was I needed to get a job right after I graduated. Luckily, my family did not understand that my English Lit major was not a direct path to employment. But as fortune would have it, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were advertising for teachers on the radio. On a Friday, my friend and I went to their downtown offices to sign up to get jobs. Again, as luck would have it, the HR person happened to be my first-grade teacher. She said she would help us find a school where we could go together and where the principal was “good.” (I later found out that “good” seemed to mean invisible.) The following Monday, I started as a second-grade teacher at Matthew Henson School on the West side of the city. The classroom was actually a trailer in the playground, which, along with three other trailers, housed all of the second-grade classrooms. I had not been in a second-grade classroom since I was in second grade. Ironically, I am now the Dean of a College that prepares people to become teachers, a preparation I did not have myself when I became a teacher. Because of my experiences (and the experiences of others in the school then and probably still now today) in the CPS, I know that it takes fully prepared people to become good and effective teachers. While it certainly is true that I learned a lot about teaching and children through my seven and a half years of teaching experience, it is also true that when I got that job as a teacher, although well-intentioned, I was woefully inept.

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
I am not sure there is a pivotal moment. There is experience and knowledge gained over time. It takes a while to put all of the pieces together. I think supervising student teachers was a pivotal experience because I not only saw a broad range of teaching abilities, but I also saw how difficult it was for my students to learn how to teach. I think the “good” that came out of those experiences was my very intentional plan to change the student teaching experience at ASU. At Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, we have developed a model, iTeachAZ, that places our undergraduates in a year-long residency (YLR), supervised by a full-time clinical faculty member who stays in the school or district with 20-25 of our students. They start when school starts in August, and our teacher candidates are expected to co-teach with the mentor teachers, who have had special online training to qualify to be good mentors. We are embedded in and partner with the schools. At a time when education schools were losing students, we decided that making our programs more rigorous would eventually draw more and, perhaps better academically prepared, students into our program. We require more math and science courses and work with Arts and Science to develop and teach those courses. We screen students out who just are not cut out for being classroom teachers and have designed a degree, Educational Studies, through which they can graduate on time but can’t use the degree to become a teacher. Our cohorts work together and often two students are in the same classroom together with a mentor teacher. There is a performance assessment that only allows a student to fail parts of it twice before being counseled out of teacher prep and into Ed Studies.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
I was frustrated with other organizations in the field. They seem to be stuck in the past and move at a snail’s pace. I find it exciting to be in the company of like-minded people who want to improve PreK-12 education through research and the preparation of teachers.

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
Raising the professional status of teachers and principals.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
Perhaps it is the rapidity at which we at MLFTC scaled up myriad changes to our teacher prep programs. But that is the culture and practice at ASU, so all systems support us in the constant improvement of our programs.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans of Deans for Impact.

Mari Koerner

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