ELMAC students and staff reflect on a favorite time of year.
As an undergraduate studying social work, Chloe Cox (AM ’24) had an internship supporting a case manager and a therapist at an elementary and high school in inner city Toledo. She loved helping students with their mental and physical health needs as they aimed to meet academic expectations. Working closely with young learners affirmed her long-held desire to teach. “But I didn’t know if I had the skills or the mentality to create the environment that students need,” she recalls.
When Cox enrolled in the Master of Arts with Elementary Teacher Certification (ELMAC) program, she gained teaching experience right off the bat. Incoming ELMAC students begin their intensive one-year program in June with three weeks of coursework at the Marsal School. After the Fourth of July, they dive into Summer Learning Institute (SLI), a partnership program between the Marsal School and the Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) district. During the four-week institute, ELMAC students do embedded coursework and support mentor teachers on-site at an elementary summer school.
Even though she had plenty of experience working with kids, Cox remembers how jittery she was on the first day of SLI when the school bus arrived. Her job was to greet students and put name tags on their backpacks. “I was so nervous, but I was also excited.”
Educator Preparation Program Manager Mariella Ortiz-Reyes says SLI is her favorite time of the year. “It’s a lot of firsts,” she says. “First time meeting students, first time in a classroom, first time reading aloud.” But the SLI instructors and staff are there every step of the way to help coach ELMAC students through those milestones.
By the time Cox was greeting her students as they got off the bus, SLI staff had already equipped her with conversation starters. “‘How are you doing today?’ ‘What grade did you just finish?’ And then, ‘OK, I’ve got this bus tag for you,’” recalls Cox. “It was a way to introduce the students to us.”
At SLI, ELMAC students—known as teaching interns—are split into small groups and paired with a mentor teacher in a classroom. Each morning, groups of interns check in with their mentor teacher to see if they need any help prepping for the day, then they greet students in the bus line, and move on to an embedded class taught by a U-M instructor. The coursework covers literacy, mathematics, and science instruction. Their lessons are accompanied by “rehearsal” time in which interns role play their plans for instruction which will be enacted in the classrooms with young learners later in the day.
Cox remembers the first time she rehearsed a read aloud with a group of peers and her field instructor. “I’m used to reading for kids, not adults!” she told them. The book was Abdul’s Story. Despite her nerves during practice, she was amazed to see how students responded to the techniques she had learned from literacy instructor Lindsay Mann.
“The students were asking questions, calling out the names of characters that they remembered from a couple pages back!” It was then that Cox realized, “Wow, I can do this.”
After time in their mentor teacher’s classroom, ELMAC students debrief their experiences with SLI staff, and plan for the next day.
“In the very beginning, all their lessons are made for them. We have what we call an instructional planning template,” explains Meri Tenney Muirhead, Managing Director of Elementary Teacher Education Programs. “The course instructors and the field instructors design those lessons with AAPS to make sure it’s coordinated with the curriculum the mentor teachers are teaching in the classroom. That way, when ELMAC students go into their classrooms, we’re supporting the skill development their mentor teachers are working on. As the weeks go on, we back off a little bit and make more parts of the planning available to the interns based on the students that they’re working with.”
By the end of the four weeks, the rising kindergarten and first graders were taking a math evaluation, in which they each had a conversation with a staff member demonstrating all that they had learned during summer school. In class, the first graders were putting the finishing touches on birdhouses they had made out of recycled materials—the culmination of their science unit. Cox says she felt sad to see the kids go, but she had become more connected with the school day schedule, and was looking forward to her student teaching placement in the fall semester. “I felt ready,” she says, “and a lot more confident.”