Urban Teacher Education Program Clinical Instructors Foster Growth for Both Teacher and Student

February 1, 2011

The interns don’t wear white coats, and the Clinical Instructors (CIs) aren’t doctors, but in the Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP), the intensity of instruction and attention to detail is not unlike how medical students hone their craft. They may not be in the business of directly saving lives, but under the guidance of Clinical Instructors--master teachers whose classrooms the candidates observe, assess, and assist over the course of their internship year--candidates are learning the skills and knowledge needed to change lives. 

Because of the essential role UChicago UTEP Clinical Instructors play in the teacher education program, CIs are picked through a rigorous selection process. They are experienced and proven educators with a dedication to teaching both children and adults.

“Given that interns spend most of their second year working alongside Clinical Instructors in their classrooms, our ability to identify exceptional mentors is of one the important responsibilities of the program, “says UChicago UTEP Director Kavita Kapadia Matsko.

Doug O’Roark, director of Secondary Math and Biology Education, seconds this statement, adding that “Our CIs are special people and we ask a lot of them. They spend at least two hours a week one-on-one with interns, do very formal observations (where they often write pages of feedback after a post-observation discussion), and are generous with their time, which is a precious commodity for practicing teachers.” 

“UTEP CIs are always working to make a better learning environment for their own students,” says Eliza Bryant, a second year Clinical Instructor and UChicago UTEP graduate, “and [they] are eager to share their practice with anyone willing to listen and learn.” This role is the key to the CIs effectiveness not only as excellent teachers, but also as professional developers of aspiring teachers.

Though the additional workload of the CIs is demanding, they are the first to emphasize the benefits of the program. “Being a good teacher requires that you are reflective,” says CI Erica Emmendorfer, another UChicago UTEP graduate, now working at the University of Chicago Charter School North Kenwood Oakland Campus. “Being a CI also requires that you are reflective. Going through the CI experience provides CIs with more opportunity and reason to reflect upon their teaching methods and habits...which leads to better teaching.”

CIs believe that hosting interns provides a unique opportunity to be reflective about teaching practice. “I have always been a thinker and a reflector,” says Bryant, “but having a teaching intern around to talk through things with pushed my reflections in a way that I could never have done by myself. I realized mistakes that I had made or where I could have done something differently and we worked with each other to make the situation better.”

To deepen their knowledge and hone their skills as teacher-mentors, CIs attend ongoing professional development meetings hosted by UChicago UTEP to learn best practices and coaching skills, as well as learn from UChicago UTEP staff and one another.

By the time UChicago UTEP candidates begin their internship year, they have taken a full year of coursework on education foundations and pedagogy. It is this intertwining of intense classroom preparation and structured, practical experience and mentorship that define the UChicago UTEP experience.

Kapadia Matsko concludes, "Clinical Instructors epitomize our definition of teacher-leadership--they are excellent practitioners committed to improving their own practice while supporting the development of novices. CIs provide UChicago UTEP students with a concrete vision of the teacher they will be in 3-5 years."