MACTE - Michigan
Monday, December 10, 2018

Joe Lubig's 2014 EDTalk

When asked by a community partner for names of some potential candidates to help them review data and develop meaningful curriculum, Joe Lubig, associate dean of the school of education at Northern Michigan University, knew just who to recommend: Molly Smith, a NMU freshman.

Lubig knew he could recommend such a young student because she had already demonstrated significant learning about the review and use data as a result of NMU’s new teacher education initiative of putting the student in the driver’s seat, modeling as best as possible the rigors and demands of the teacher life.

According to Lubig, who spent 11 years as a middle school teacher before moving into teacher education in 2004, the idea behind NMU’s initiative is to close the gap between what professors of education teach students and how they teach them.

“The whole thing kind of stems from this idea that we should be giving our teacher candidates the same experiences that we say their K-12 students should have,” Lubig said. “We are kind of hypocritical if we don't take that risk and identify real-world audiences and connect theory to practice. We empower them to do things that we need educators to do, which shouldn't be different from what we do as professors in our program in teaching.”

Lubig notes four primary areas students now get more experience in due to the change: working with and presenting data, working with community partners in a variety of contexts, presenting at conferences as early as freshman year and through graduate school, and getting to plan curriculum.

“Our goal is to really immerse our students in solid planning, review, reflection, and revision” Lubig said. “We’ve been having [our students] partner with faculty to do school site visits, to do interviews with practicing teachers and K-12 students, to work through the review process, and to really experience what it means to be a reflective practitioner rooted in evidence.”

Molly Smith saw the benefits of this new initiative after one year. Working with a psych professor, Smith redesigned the spreadsheet the school of education used to communicate student teaching performance. Her goal was to make the review process more utilitarian and reflection-friendly for the student teachers themselves rather than functioning solely as an evaluative tool by faculty through a redesigning of the data layout. Not only does the school of ed now use Smith’s design, but due to Lubig’s recommendation, she was able to get a paying job in education with a college community partner, all due to the experience she garnered working on the program as a professor might, taking a more active role in the process.

No small part of the initiative’s success, according to Lubig, is owed in part to the community partners - local K-12 institutions and nonprofits - with whom the teacher candidates work closely. NMU students and professors have a “place” that is theirs at many of this institutions, many of which professors teach classes in from time to time. In addition to interviewing practicing teachers before they work with them, teacher candidates work with schools to plan meaningful lessons that fit with what the teachers have done, are doing and will do after the teacher candidate leaves that class. Lubignotes that some students are taking over classes for up to a week at a time before their student teaching experience, which requires a significant amount of trust on the participating school’s behalf.

But this push for a more genuine teacher experience throughout the program comes at a cost. It’s messy, Lubig says. The system doesn’t allow professors to say for sure what the students will cover in any given week because it is so focused on the teacher candidates adapting to the needs of the schools in which they are working and learning.

“But we like that it’s messy. We are stuck in a policy system right now that says there is a single answer for all this, and they are trying to develop specific answers. What we adhere to is a specific process that allows people to get to excellence. I think that’s the best we will be able to do: create reflective practitioners rooted in evidence for decision making. Having everyone do the same thing just seems disingenuous when we say we want to meet the needs of all learners.”