Knowing what to teach is not the same thing as knowing how to teach.
Teachers must know how to manage a classroom and how to use data, yes, but most importantly, they must know how to help all their students achieve their goals as learners.
That takes time, strategy, reflection. It takes dedication, and for new teachers certified through Michigan State University, it starts with the internship.
The eight-month signature experience of the university’s Teacher Preparation Program can be hard to stomach, with its intense expectations and financial sacrifices following graduation. But the comparative success of Spartans in the classroom shows it’s worth the investment.
For Lakeya Omogun, it was worth coming back for.
A different path
When Omogun graduated from the MSU College of Education with her degree in elementary education, she initially decided to take a different path to teacher certification: Teach for America (TFA).
While the majority of her peers from MSU prepared to spend a full academic year teaching alongside mentor teachers in Michigan or Chicago schools, Omogun spent six weeks of the summer in an intensive training program.
She wanted to be placed in a TFA corps on the East Coast because she has family there. The first step was to complete the TFA training based in a New York City summer school classroom. There was a heavy emphasis on student data, she says, and using achievement information to plan lessons, develop curricula and assess progress.
It was a whirlwind experience that ended in celebration as she and her fellow novice teachers recognized the growth they had helped their students achieve. Omogun also felt a high level of support when she started teaching sixth-grade literacy that fall in Newark, N.J.
But along the way, she noticed something. Or something missing.
“I know that for me personally, there was a disconnect from what I had learned previously,” she said.
Her first year was successful. However, the second year in TFA started with her feeling less supported by leaders and fellow teachers in her school building (considering that there was so much support her first year). She felt less confident. She remembers calling former MSU classmates.
“I found myself looking back a lot, to say the least,” she says.
Omogun, who grew up in Detroit, returned to Michigan somewhat suddenly because of personal challenges unrelated to teaching. But the roadblock meant she likely would have to change paths again.
“It’s about taking control of your life”
At that point, the options for achieving state-regulated teacher certification became complicated. Go through TFA in Detroit? Return to New Jersey? Resume a traditional training program?
Meanwhile, there was an even more challenging problem to address.
“I realized I wasn’t really prepared as an educator, and that was huge for me,” said Omogun. “I was good at classroom management and data analysis but the core piece I was missing was HOW do I get my students there.
“And that’s why I came back to MSU.”
She put aside concerns about paying more tuition dollars, about postponing a paid position again and, well, feeling like she was years behind.
She was reinstated at MSU and completed the full-year teaching internship in a third-grade class at Gompers Elementary School in Detroit Public Schools.
During the past year, she says, she got what she was missing:
- The ability to work on teaching each content area—mathematics, science, language arts and social studies—using research-based teaching strategies specific to each area
- The skills needed to differentiate instruction for each student
- A different understanding about developing meaningful assessments—to find out what students need but also to learn about herself as a teacher
To her surprise, the other Detroit-area interns embraced Omogun without judgment.
“The lesson that is most valuable is that you recognized, as they say, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ and I need to do something about this,” Sylvia Hollifield, MSU’s teaching internship coordinator in Detroit, told Omogun. “You sacrificed what people may have thought about you because it was about your preparation, your growth and your integrity.”
Time to grow
Omogun became immersed in advanced study and the camaraderie of her fellow MSU interns through weekly courses at the MSU Detroit Center near downtown Detroit. At Gompers, she had received the opportunity to work at a highly reputed urban school not far from her childhood home with an excellent mentor, LaDawn Peterson.
“She was always asking, ‘What are you going to do next and how are you going to do it?’” Omogun said.
Like all MSU interns, she assumed the full role of teaching in Peterson’s classroom over an extended time period. Along the way, Peterson and veteran field instructor Susan Florio-Ruane pushed Omogun to expand her teaching skills.
Teaching students the writing process and augmenting district-provided materials to better meet their needs were just a few of the things Omogun began to master. All of her students started the year behind grade level.
“But you wouldn’t know that seeing them now,” said Florio-Ruane. “She took the time working with them and getting them to a place they couldn’t get to on their own, or within the pace of the mandated curriculum.”
Florio-Ruane says teacher candidates must spend enough time in the classroom with a strong mentor to grow and work through their own challenges.
“With Lakeya, in terms of her ability to teach for understanding, the person who walked in the door in August and the person who left in April are just … night and day,” she said.
Meanwhile, Omogun left an impression on her fellow MSU students as well. Telling them her story helped many of them think about taking risks that could ultimately enrich their own careers, such as teaching out-of-state or in different types of schools.
Since then, Omogun has been accepted into the Literacy Specialist program at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. She also received a job at a school in Harlem, where she is teaching seventh-grade literacy while working on her graduate degree. Eventually, she would like to become a professor of teacher education.
She feels fully prepared for the next step—finally.
“I think it speaks volumes about MSU teacher education, that you can take what you are learning and apply it to any teaching context,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine going forward in my teaching career without having this foundation.”
By Nicole Geary
Reprinted with permission from the MSU College of Education's Fall 2013 edition of “New Educator.”