- Expertise: Teacher Preparation
- Position: Program Manager, First STEP
- District: Fulton County Schools, Ga.
A bad student-teaching experience still haunts Marsha Francis. It also has fueled her work to reimagine what student teaching can be.
When Francis worked at a college of education, a young, promising teacher-candidate came to her office in tears, feeling overwhelmed after a chaotic semester in the classroom, where her students didn’t listen to her and her mentor teacher offered no support. The candidate’s mentor, unhappy and burned out, had told her she didn’t know why anyone wanted to go into teaching—and that she herself was planning on leaving the profession to become a dental hygienist.
Determined to prevent other aspiring teachers from suffering such a demoralizing entry into the profession, Francis has helped overhaul how Atlanta’s Fulton County school system approaches student-teaching. College students are no longer placed in schools haphazardly, with the district office having no way to track the fidelity of their experiences.
Lessons from the Leader
- Be open to reshaping old relationships. Encourage new partnerships that break out of traditional roles, and let go of past practices that won’t support the goals of the new initiative.
- Bring enough voices to the table. Involve key players who will be affected by change to help shape what’s coming. Ask for their ideas during planning and their feedback during execution.
- Lead change with compassion and consistency. Leaders should show compassion without compromising on results. Use consistent messaging, expectations, and praise to rally stakeholders around the new initiative.
Under Francis’ watch, teacher-candidates are matched with a high-performing teacher for a full school year. The candidate receives frequent observations from his or her mentor teacher, professional development, a $3,000 stipend, and the guarantee of a teaching job upon graduation. The cooperating teacher also receives a stipend and coaching support.
And Fulton gets a pipeline of teachers who are familiar with the district, increased odds that they’ll stay, and a better chance of recouping its initial investment in new teachers. This model is only in its second year, but so far, about 80 percent of the teacher-candidates with the improved training now work in the district.
Getting student-teaching right has been among the most nettlesome issues facing teacher prep. There are a ton of logistics and personalities to manage, and the mismatch between book learning and reality can scare off even the most talented of recruits. Francis’ vision points a way forward.
“We don’t have a whole bunch of folks who are rushing into the profession,” says Francis. “We have folks that are choosing this. How do we make sure we’re nurturing them instead of running them away from, yes, a challenging profession, but a rewarding one as well?”
Marsha Francis is one of two honorees from Education Week’s 2020 Leaders To Learn From who will receive early recognition. Read the complete profile—and learn about the full class of leading-edge school district leaders—in February.