With teachers in high demand, this district partners with MSU

MSU College of Education graduate Ryan Culey works with a kindergartner

Students at the Early Childhood Center are looking up to four new faces this school year, thanks to a new partnership between Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and Michigan State University’s College of Education.

It’s the first time the district has had Spartans interning (commonly called “student teaching”) at one of its schools, and it has been a great fit for the school and the interns, said Pete Geerling, center principal. MSU places its education program graduates in schools for an entire year, as opposed to the traditional single-semester internships of most teaching colleges.

A second-grader shows Katelyn Kouchoukos, an MSU graduate and teaching intern, her dance moves

“I think that far too often, people go through student teaching and it may not answer all of the questions they have,” said Geerling. “This — being here from the beginning (of the school year) all the way to the end — is huge.”

The college of education has about 100 interns, and about a quarter of those are in West Michigan, said Rochelle Hosler, field instructor for the interns at Godfrey-Lee. Other West Michigan districts with MSU interns include Grand Rapids and Kentwood Public Schools districts.

“We’ve learned a ton — especially in terms of implementing routines early on in the school year. It’s fun to see how fast (the students) pick them up,” said Ryan Culey, intern in Rebecca Swem’s kindergarten classroom. “There’s a lot of classroom management stuff that you don’t learn in the university courses.”

Ryan Culey empties the contents of a new student’s bag

Victory for MSU, and Godfrey-Lee

Superintendent Kevin Polston, a proud MSU alum, said the partnership has been a veritable “win-win.” Polston’s link to the MSU College of Education goes back about a decade, to his days at Grand Haven Area Public Schools. There, he worked with MSU’s education program to offer mock interviews to interns, as a way to give back to the profession, he said, and also to meet some up-and-coming teachers. After coming to Godfrey-Lee last year, Polston harnessed that connection to help bring MSU interns to the district.

Polston said his district is a great fit for MSU, which aims to prepare future teachers for an urban environment. The program even offers an urban educators cohort, which focuses on challenges unique to urban schools. He added that the research is pretty clear: most new teachers come from a fairly narrow demographic that has more women and is overwhelmingly white. Recruiting a diverse talent pool is important, he said, and so is equipping the current talent pool to work with students of different racial and economic backgrounds than what they’re familiar with.

Hosler said that certain factors, such as a high percentage of students in the free and reduced lunch program, made Godfrey-Lee a great fit for the interns.

Intern Hayley Browning works on an assessment for her internship at the Early Childhood Center

Moreover, she thought the school was outstanding.

“When we toured the school in the spring I was really impressed with the building, the teachers and the things that they’re doing here,” she said.

Intern Hayley Browning, who was in the urban educator cohort, said, “I actually hadn’t heard of Godfrey-Lee, and was intrigued by the fact that it’s the smallest district geographically in the state at one-square-mile. It’s pretty cool. I’m glad to be here.”

‘A Year-long Job Interview’

Polston said that at a time when demand for teachers is high, connections with teaching colleges are important ones to have. Hosler concurred, as she’s seen the number of students going into education decline during her time at MSU.

Teaching intern Katelyn Kouchoukos joins a second-grader as she gets her wiggles out during a “brain break”

“When I was done (with college), finding a job was really hard,” said Hosler, who completed her education internship 20 years ago. Now, she said, “our interns get hired very quickly. What we tell our interns is, ‘This really is a year-long job interview.’ If they want to stay here, it’s not hard to find a job in West Michigan right now.”

Katelyn Kouchoukos moved to Grand Rapids from her home in the suburbs of Chicago for her internship at Godfrey-Lee’s ECC. Both she and Browning are unsure of their next step after completing the internship. They’ll attend job fairs, apply for jobs and see where they can go.

“I could see myself in Michigan, but I might go home,” said Kouchoukos.

Culey, however, was ready for a change of pace: “I will not stay here. I love Michigan… but for a little bit, I want to get away.”

Whatever path they take, they say they’re gaining valuable experience for whatever they may face as teachers. And, said Polston, the ECC reaps the benefit of another caring adult in classrooms.

MSU graduate and teaching intern Olivia Fox meets with field instructor Rochelle Hosler for a debriefing after a classroom observation
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio.

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