Future of Teaching

This Indianapolis charter school has a solution to its teacher shortage: ‘Grow’ its own educators.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
A teacher at Christel House Academy South works outside with a student.

When new teachers step through the doors of Christel House Academy, they are seldom prepared for the challenges of working in a school dedicated to educating students in poverty.

That’s why leaders at the Indianapolis charter network are trying a new approach: Training their own teachers.

Next year, Christel House is piloting a new teacher training program called IndyTeach. Student teachers will work in the classroom alongside experienced educators at Christel House, with additional teacher training each week. At the end of the year-long apprenticeship, which pays $30,000, students will earn teaching licenses from the state. The program will start with just four students, but it is expected to grow in later years.

In part, Christel House is launching the program to help create a steady stream of teachers for the network’s schools, said Tracy Westerman, who will lead IndyTeach.

“We need more. We need better teachers,” Westerman said. “This crazy idea stemmed from, how do we get more teachers? … Alright, let’s create them and grow them in house.”

The idea of giving new educators more practice in the classroom is gaining interest in Indianapolis and across the country. IndyTeach recently received a grant from the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that supports school reform and charter schools, and it is modeled on a teacher training program at a California charter network.

The program will include a year in the classroom instead of the 16 weeks of student teaching that is typical for many education programs, said head of school Carey Dahncke. Students will work with mentor teachers, and as the program progresses, they will take on more teaching responsibility.

There is “much, much less emphasis on any kind of academic preparation, and a much greater emphasis on doing the work,” Dahncke said. “It is designed to be sort of just in time instruction.”

In the past, Christel House leaders have had a deep pool of applicants to choose from, Dahncke said. The teachers they hired were more experienced, and newly licensed teachers filled support roles where they had a chance to acclimate to the school before taking on their own classrooms.

But as the economy has improved, Christel House has had fewer applicants to choose from, Dahncke said. Now, many of the teachers they hire are not only brand new, but also unfamiliar with the school’s intensive approach to educating students in poverty.

The data offers a hint at the challenges facing teachers at Christel House: Nearly 90 percent of students are poor enough to get meal assistance and more than one in four children at the network’s two schools are learning English. Many parents didn’t complete high schools and hardly any continued on to college, said Dahncke.

Christel House teachers are focused on character education and instilling strong work habits, Dahncke said. Unlike in suburban schools, teachers don’t expect parents to track student progress, and they make home visits so they have a sense of the environments where students live. That approach is unusual, and many new teachers don’t get the right skills when they are studying education in college, he said.

“What tends to happen with traditional programs out there is they prepare teachers to teach sort of in any environment,” Dahncke said. “We are trying to prepare teachers for an urban environment.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Carey Dahncke said teachers typically have about 16 weeks of student teaching.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.



story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

More in What's Your Education Story?