Partner School District Focus Interviews

Focus groups were held with five PK-12 partner school districts. Three groups consisted of the district’s administrative team, and two included the administrative team and two teachers. Strengths and areas of concern are divided into two sections. Sample comments from participants are provided with primary strengths and areas of concern underlined within each comment.

A case study approach to better measure completer effectiveness and impact on PK-12 learning will be implemented in Winter/Spring 2023.

Areas of Strengths

Principal: UMaine teachers are coming out really well versed in literacy at the K-3 level where I am. They seem to have almost all of them seem to prefer it over math, which will lead me to my next comment when you ask. But their transcripts are strong with, you know, a variety of different kinds of literacy. They have a rich background in literacy generally when they come. So that’s been exciting to see, and that they’re, they’re versed in the new practices, they usually already can do running records. They can do, you know, they can analyze those, they know about the workshop model of instruction, so they’re coming out really ready to hit the ground running with reading.

Curriculum Coordinator: The students I work with are well-versed in technology.  Obviously, just the ability to take the technology that we have and apply it, It’s not unusual for us (School Personnel) to learn things from some of the students around using technology in the classroom.

Vice Principal: They’re well-versed in technology, but I’m not sure if that’s compared to me, they’re well versed in technology as part of the program, which is part of the age.  Just the ability to take the technology that we have and apply it, and it wouldn’t be unusual for us to learn things from new teachers that come out around using technology.

Principal: But I would say they are coming prepared with pretty strong technology skills. And using technology to support their classroom. I think that they’ve also had fairly good classroom management. You know, that’s been, that’s always a concern that first couple years. So classroom management has been, you know, a fairly good strength for them.

Principal: In the elementary school, we use it [technology] every day, every subject. Lessons are presented there. They just seem to have a knack for it and just come in and take over. It’s not an issue.

Curriculum Coordinator: My experience with UMaine students has been mostly with those getting their masters in teaching or recent graduates from masters programs (MAT and MST). I really think they have come out transformed as educators, they’re driven by data. It’s been an excellent experience for us. So those teachers coming out the master’s programs are doing great overall.

Assistant Principal: I would say that people who come to us have a really great work ethic, they work really hard. And we appreciate that.

Principal: The only thing I can think of to say concerning one teacher, a recent graduate, has done a really good job working with our kids who are economically disadvantaged in some way. I just know that typically teachers come from middle-income families and backgrounds, and then sometimes, when they’re asked to inject themselves into a culture that is maybe very different and sometimes hard. So, preparation to work with students from economically diverse backgrounds is an important part of teacher preparation these days.


Areas of Concern or Suggestions for Improvement

Participants in focus groups identified a number of concerns related to recent EPP program completers. They included communication with parents and self-confidence related to teaching math.

Teacher: New teachers seem to struggle when communicating with our parents. In our school. it’s really important to communicate with our parents, our P-12 students struggle in a lot of ways. But I don’t know if it’s communication skills, or just, you know, just a first and second-year teacher, it’s tough to reach out and make some of those connections without a lot of experience. So I don’t know if it’s coming unprepared. When you enter a new environment, it’s tough to make those connections.

Vice Principal: I don’t know if it’s self-confidence, just not quite knowing how to do it. We have some pretty challenging parents at some of our schools and, really challenged some of the veteran educators, some difficult interactions. So it’s, they can be put in situations that are pretty tough for anybody. But for younger teachers, I think sometimes they might shy away from some of those because of early experiences that didn’t go well, and we’ve all been there. It’s not just first, and second-year teachers, we’ve all faced situations, and maybe we get better at them as we get older. But it’s still something that’s difficult to do.

Curriculum Coordinator: I think the undergraduates, the only thing I would offer, I mean they’re always very strong, and they the student teachers we have are usually very, very good. Math doesn’t seem to be a passion for very many people. People looking for jobs they’ve got to take those higher-level math courses, and it’s too late by the time I see them tell them that. So if you can communicate to your colleagues that we are looking for people to be in calculus and related courses, and have a good math background, even elementary teachers, we want elementary teachers that can teach math.

Teacher: I would say soft skills have been my challenge lately, not necessarily just with UMaine graduates, but younger people being on time and understanding the workload, I don’t think that’s specific to UMaine as much as just some of those soft skills were a little lacking. I just want to throw out to all of you how they are coming prepared to work with students like those in our lower socioeconomic schools in terms of classroom management or content-specific areas. Are they strong in their content?

Principal: I know there is a focus on, like, social-emotional learning, and students from like, high poverty backgrounds, etc., and how that impacts students’ placement in schools. So often, I see teachers new to the profession come in, and they have an expectation that students are going to sit in class, they’re going to pay attention, and they’re ready to learn. And it’s kind of a shock when they find out that’s not the case for all. And so maybe a little more focus in their program that not all learners are coming to school prepared.

Principal: I don’t think they have a huge depth in the area of literacy instruction. I think that if they could get out in the field a little bit sooner than they do, I think that would help them develop their skills in the literacy area.

Principal: I don’t think they have a lot of experience in, you know, assessment. Either, you know, providing assessments and taking in the assessment data, and figuring out what to do with it and how to differentiate that, you know, that instruction. I think that’s something that a lot of first-year teachers struggle with. I’m not sure if that’s a UMaine thing or just like a teacher development thing.

Teacher (Follow-up): And also looking at assessment is how do you support learning, instead of how to use it to give grades.

Principal: Formal preparation for interviews, I know we do have a lot of your student teachers, so we know them in practice. But I have noticed a lot of times they really struggle with the formality of an interview and being prepared for that. And, you know, knowing how to put themselves out there and how to kind of sell themselves the right way. And that when you don’t have them as a student teacher, students who have formally prepared or are better in that way, obviously, attract your attention. You know, more than you lean towards hiring students who seem like they’re really prepared for their interviews and really ready. And I think that kind of goes back to what was said earlier, those students who have more experience in the field have more to pull from to answer questions, as opposed to “in my coursework,” they’re able to say, you know when I was in this classroom, and I did this when I was, you know, did this project with this classroom that I shadowed? That really comes across better when you’re interviewing a group of beginning teachers.

I think the most glaring is in junior high and high school is classroom management. I think the last two or three that we’ve had, we’ve had really had to work hard with them around classroom management and understanding the importance of communicating at home with, you know, to the home with parents, I think that comes more naturally at the elementary school probably for those teachers may see that modeled in the cooperating teacher that they work with. But I think at the high school level, it just seems to be foreign to them for whatever reason, so picking up the phone and calling is just such a big ordeal. And so I think those two things, understanding the importance of communicating with a family and classroom management, have been the two biggest. I think content, from what I’ve seen, content instruction that’s been there. I mean, you’ve done a good job preparing that, but classroom management is one of those things that it’s hard to prepare in a classroom at UMaine for the scenarios they might see in a classroom, at a high school or middle school. So I can understand why they might be a little bit deficient in that area that just comes with practice and time in the classroom.

Teacher: I would say that people who come to us have a really great work ethic, they work really hard. And we appreciate that.

Superintendent: Quite often, when there are issues around dispositions and work habits, it’s a maturity issue. Some just lack some of that maturity to be in that professional role. And then the whole discussion about what it means to be in that professional role, that professional behavior, professional dress, professional, you know, all those things that some of those students seem to just possess. But then others don’t. And so I don’t know what that leads to. But that’s another piece of the responsibility of the teacher that they student teach with, for their experience. I have people that might be willing, but they aren’t people who I wish to perpetuate the profession with here, you know?  And so I think it’s incumbent upon us, our principals, superintendents everywhere too, to make sure that we’re, we are pushing our best people to share their skills with these student teachers and new teachers.