Program TOTALly prepares future teachers

December 9 2008

Matt Taylor shoveled mulch into metal trashcans, a wheel barrow and a red wagon while supervising the fifth-grade students distributing the mulch to create a quarter mile walking path at DeVaney Elementary School.

"By doing this with them, I get more of an idea of their likes and dislikes," said the Indiana State University senior elementary education major. "Also, on days when they're a little rowdy, it wears them out a little bit. Maybe their parents will thank you for it."

Helping create the walking path wasn't all volunteer work on Taylor's part. It was a classroom project and part of Taylor's duties as he worked alongside an experienced educator during the fall semester learning what it takes to lead a classroom before his student teaching semester.

The Newport resident is part of ISU's pilot program Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning (TOTAL).

"It is an immersion semester prior to student teaching and it's the opportunity before that culminating experience for students to live and breathe a school and to be a part of it from bell to bell," said Beth Whitaker, TOTAL student supervisor and ISU associate professor of elementary, early and special education. "They're never responsible for everything. They're getting their feet wet with teaching and planning and delivering instruction with the support of the coaching teacher who's been trained in a specific coaching model of supervision."

It differs from student teaching in an important way, according to Whitaker.

"When they student teach at a certain point in the semester the teacher leaves them in the classroom for a two-week period to plan and deliver all of the instruction," she said. "The TOTAL student is never left alone in the classroom and is never responsible for the full day of instruction."

TOTAL students observe and help before gradually moving into small group instruction then to teaching subjects at the end of the semester in preparation for their student teaching.

"With my TOTAL student, basically I try to get her as involved as possible," said Kristen Browne, second grade teacher at DeVaney. "She does anything between reading a chapter book, a spelling lesson all the way to doing the whole math lesson. She's a part of taking them to art, music and P.E. --anything to get her exposed to the 'real world' of teaching."

The 10 ISU students participating in this third pilot semester are divided between two elementary schools in Terre Haute -- Fuqua and DeVaney.

"Here the TOTAL students, they walk in at 7:30 or a quarter until 8 and they see everything from the second those students walk through the door and then they're here until 3:15 or even later," said Browne. "They see all that happens after students leave -- all the grading, all the preparing for the next day, all the phone calls and everything that needs to be made to do that."

For Taylor, this semester let him experience the reality of teaching.

"There's a lot more to teaching than what I thought it would be," he said. "A lot of teachers you have had they've been doing it for awhile and they just make it look easy. You get in there and you're teaching one subject, it's not too bad. But trying to do a full day and behavior management and all the other demands that are on a teacher's time, it opens your eyes."

Students involved in the TOTAL program likened it to an internship and said it will help them not only with their student teaching during the spring semester, but also when they walk into their own classrooms next fall.

"I've gotten to see a lot more how an experienced teacher would handle all kinds of situations," said Jenna Mitchell, a senior elementary education major from Brazil. "How with the same kid, she'll handle them differently in each situation. How each kid has to be treated differently based on where they're coming from."

"It just makes me feel a lot more professional, more prepared for student teaching and my confidence has really grown," said Heather Bender, a senior elementary education major from Logansport.

Katie Medlin agreed, stating the program has allowed them to see everything from how to interact with the principal to how to handle lunches.

"I think by being in this program and being in the school as much as we have, your confidence really builds because you're in the classroom for almost a whole semester, not just two weeks out of the semester (as would happen during the normal block of classes)," said the senior elementary education major from Covington. "You get to see everything that your teacher does -- behavior management, how you do stuff with homework, how you deal with bathroom breaks -- I mean everything. It's just given us real experience day in and day out."

That experience has lead to growth in confidence and other areas for the TOTAL students, according to Paul Utterback, DeVaney principal.

"When they come to our school you see that they dive right in, the teachers get them involved from day one," he said. "Classroom management is one of those areas where we have seen a tremendous amount of growth. In the past they would come in and that wasn't developed until later on in their student teaching. These students by the time they get to student teaching, you can tell that they have been TOTAL students and they have had that opportunity."

The TOTAL students' professors have noticed as well.

"We're seeing students going into student teaching unbelievably confident," Whitaker said. "They are ready to hit the ground running. They don't want to have to sit back and observe like traditional student teachers have done. They are ready to teach and be teachers."

In a recent meeting about student teaching, Taylor said some of the students were nervous.

"You could look around the classroom and I think there were seven or eight of us TOTAL students in there and we had a completely different outlook on student teaching," he said. "We were already prepared for it, we were ready for it. We weren't nervous, we were more anxious about getting started than the other students are because they haven't had the opportunity to be in the schools an entire day, they don't have the opportunity to do the behavior management that we get to do here so we feel like we're more prepared for it."

Because the students more prepared, university officials hope that it will contribute to teacher retention in the future.

"This is something we want to collect data on because we think we'll see a marked difference in that," Whitaker said. "They've really had so much experience they're going in above and beyond the level of a first-year teacher, so we feel like we're going to see a difference in how students once they get jobs will keep them and they'll want to stay in a profession."

This semester at DeVaney confirmed Bender's decision to become a teacher.

"I don't have a problem waking up in the morning coming here," she said. "I just feel so happy that I have a career that I'm going to like going to my job every day."


Contact: Beth Whitaker, Indiana State University, TOTAL student supervisor and associate professor of elementary, early and special education, at 812-237-2855 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or


Cutline: Matt Taylor, senior elementary education major from Newport, assists a fifth grade student at DeVaney Elementary. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Heather Bender, senior elementary education major from Logansport, helps second grade students at DeVaney Elementary with an art project. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Katie Medlin, senior elementary education major from Covington, reads to a class of first grade students. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Jenna Mitchell, a senior elementary education major from Brazil, reviews social study questions with fourth grade students at DeVaney Elementary. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

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Story Highlights

ISU students have the opportunity to spend a semester in a classroom working with a teacher before their student teaching in an innovative program.

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