SUNY Oneonta and the Sidney Central School District have teamed up to create an innovative teacher training program that aims to give Oneonta elementary education majors immersive, in-depth field experiences while addressing the teacher shortage in the region.
For the past three years, Sidney Central School has been working hard to find teachers to fill vacancies. The new partnership between the school district and SUNY Oneonta aims to address this need, while offering excellent hands-on teacher training experiences – including the opportunity for paid substitute teaching work – for future teachers majoring in Early Childhood Education or Childhood Education at SUNY Oneonta.
During their “block” semester focused on teaching methods, SUNY Oneonta pre-service teachers complete their coursework at SUNY Oneonta on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and spend a full day each Wednesday at Sidney Central School, implementing lesson plans in collaboration with classroom teachers. On Fridays, they have the opportunity to work as paid substitute teachers in the district.
The students are treated as first-year teachers at Sidney. They receive a staff badge and access to buildings, and attend curriculum meetings, professional development opportunities and grade-level team meetings. Sidney is hoping that this level of involvement in its culture will generate interest in future vacancies and hopes to offer teaching positions to SUNY Oneonta students once they graduate.
In January, Sidney created a Red Dragon Room in the middle school building for the Oneonta block students to check in each morning, eat lunch together, and gather after school to debrief their day. This established a home base for Sidney staff and Oneonta students and helped to create a classroom atmosphere where students could share information about their daily experiences.
The Sidney partnership is SUNY Oneonta’s newest and most extensive teacher residency initiative. The university has similar partnerships with school districts in Milford, Oneonta and Worcester and is looking to expand to other districts.
SUNY Oneonta Dean of Education, Human Ecology and Sport Studies Mark Davies said it’s been wonderful to work with such a willing partner. “Our students have been enjoying the program. These hands-on experiences give students the ability to really apply what they’ve been learning in their teaching methods classes. That gives them a lot more experience and confidence, which prepares them for success while student teaching and, later, in their own classroom when they graduate.”.
Sidney Central School Director of Curriculum Tony Stenta said the program is not only the right thing to do; it’s also a valuable asset in teacher recruitment.
A Growing Cohort
In Fall 2022, 28 SUNY Oneonta block students worked in 14 classrooms at Sidney, and the district hosted six student teachers. The teachers in those classrooms, and across the district, were so impressed with the students that Sidney now has more teachers than ever who are willing to have student teachers in their classrooms.
This semester, a total of 92 SUNY Oneonta students are working in classrooms in the Sidney Central School District. Forty students are in Sidney for their block semester teacher residency experiences: 22 Early Childhood Education students are at the Cullman Daycare Center, which houses Sidney’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten program, and the other 18 Elementary Education students are in nine Sidney Elementary classrooms, from second through sixth grade. Another 40 students are rotating through weeklong field experiences in Sidney’s kindergarten classrooms. Spring semester SUNY Oneonta student teachers have doubled to 12, and seven of those 12 were among the fall block students at Sidney.
Valuable Career Preparation
Montanna Armstrong, of Davenport, NY, is one of six Oneonta education majors who were student teachers at Sidney last fall and are now employed as long-term subs in the district. Armstrong graduated in December 2022 after completing two student teaching placements at Sidney, in first- and fourth-grade classrooms. When a temporary position opened up for the remainder of the school year, she landed her first paid teaching job, as a long-term substitute teacher.
“There are so many things I have liked about teaching at Sidney,” she said. “I really like the support system I have had since starting. My cooperating teachers from student teaching and the rest of the 5th-grade team check in with me to make sure I am all set and help me through any questions I may have.”
Armstrong said having so many in-depth, immersive practical opportunities, starting with a weekly block experience in the Worcester Central School District STEM classroom, has prepared her very well.
“Observing in a classroom for a couple of hours is very different than being in the classroom all day observing the students and teacher,” she said. “I benefitted from student teaching because I was able to learn new instructional practices that I could, and do, integrate into my own classroom. Having patience, being confident, and learning to be flexible was a theme throughout my student teaching experience and one that I am sure will continue throughout my teaching career.”