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.