Teacher prep program taking applications

Odessa Pathway to Teaching now fully part of district

Ector County ISD is about to start its first cohort of teachers with its own state approved teacher preparation program.

Known as Odessa Pathway to Teaching, it operated under the umbrella of TNTP, the New Teacher Project.

Beginning on Sept. 1, Odessa Pathway to Teaching became fully ECISD’s teacher training and certification program. Coordinated by the district’s Talent Development Department, it is centered around hands-on, in-person training with experienced ECISD educators.

ECISD’s application was approved July 23.

Director of Talent Development Debbie Bynum said they will start taking applications Oct. 4.

“… Being our own official program, we now have more control of everything and we can work directly with our campuses to make sure that what our teachers are doing or is aligned to the district work, as well,” Bynum said.

Executive Director for Human Resources Staci Ashley said Sept. 16 that there were 57 teaching vacancies.

“The value that Odessa Pathway to Teaching program brings to ECISD is top notch. It allows our OPT interns the opportunity to be coached, have role models on site and to work collaboratively with veteran teachers,” Ashley said.

“It is exciting for our district and for the many OPT interns that we employ,” she added.

Bynum said they hope to have 50 candidates in the next cohort. People can apply online at Odessa Pathway to Teaching on the ECISD website.

“We have guidelines from the state that we have to meet, but we have more control over how we meet those guidelines,” Bynum said.

She added that the program will train teachers in the way the district feels are best practices and according to what’s best for students in Ector County.

“So being our own educator prep program allows us to focus all of those practices so that those things align directly with the goals of the district …,” Bynum said.

Odessa Pathway to Teaching is an 18-month program.

“… We start with them in January … and do what’s called the enrollment phase. In the enrollment phase, they attend tutoring sessions one night a week and one Saturday a month. And they do online coursework during that time,” she said. “And they do what we call field observation, so they’re spending a minimum of 30 hours in classrooms. Those classrooms can be here in Odessa, or those could be any classroom in the state of Texas so they’re already getting exposure to being in the classroom; seeing how classrooms are run; looking at effective teaching strategies. All of those things are happening during that enrollment time.”

“Then after they complete enrollment, they move to what we call pre-service training. During their intensive pre-service training, they spend six weeks with us doing work in class during the district’s summer program, so there actually is almost like a little mini student teaching that happens during the summer program. Plus they do in-person coursework during that time as well. They’re in classrooms in the morning, and they’re with us learning in the afternoon. So we’re teaching them about lesson planning and lesson delivery in the afternoons, and they’re practicing those things in the afternoon to prepare them to be with students in the mornings. Once they complete those two pieces and they’ve passed their test that the state requires, they’re ready to do their internship,” Bynum said.

They do a full year as a paid intern in the district and they’re being paid a teacher’s salary and benefits.

“They have a field supervisor that supports them in the classroom that comes in and coaches them,” so they will become stronger during the year, she said.

Also during that year, they’re attending academy sessions with ECISD one Saturday a month and doing online coursework.

“It’s a very intensive program, but when they successfully complete everything at the end of that internship year, they’re eligible for their standard certificate,” Bynum said.

Certification areas include early childhood through sixth grade in core subjects; fourth through eighth in core subjects; seventh through 12th grade math; seventh through 12th grade science; and seventh through 12th grade language arts.

What they have seen from previous experience running the program with TNTP is that many candidates are as strong as, if not better than, first year teachers from other programs, she said.

If they reach 50 in this group, it will be the largest one so far.

The majority of candidates come from the Permian Basin, but some people from out of state have expressed interest.

Bynum said they have a goal of becoming one of the premier teacher preparation programs “building the best teachers and then working to retain them.”

She added that the district is working toward a stronger mentor program, not just for teachers, but also assistant principals and principals so when you come into a new position, you’re not just thrown in.

“… You’re actually given a support system,” Bynum said.

Program participants have a mentor teacher during their pre-service training in the summer. When they start their internship, because those are probably going to be on two different campuses, they’ll have a school year mentor specifically assigned to them with very specific responsibilities for their internship here, she added.

“We’re building that program to extend out to support our teachers into their second and third year as well,” Bynum said.

In normal circumstances, it takes two or three years for teachers to get their feet under them.

In the midst of everything that’s happening with COVID and how it’s changed everything in the last school year, it’s taking a little longer because they’re liable to see more changes.

“And with all of the changes, it’s one more piece that you have to learn. Last year was like a first year for almost all of our teachers because everything was so different,” Bynum noted.

She added that it’s been a learning curve.

“… But everybody’s a little stronger this year because (of) all the experience that they gained last year, so everyone is a little more confident this year in all the different ways that we’re having to approach things …,” Bynum said.

She added that she feels teachers will be stronger because of what they have been through.

“I think our teachers that were new teachers last year are much stronger than a lot of your first year teachers, because they experienced things so differently. They had to learn teaching in a virtual environment. At the same time, they’re learning how to teach kids in person so they’re coming into teaching with a whole different skill set that many other teachers didn’t have …,” Bynum said.

As a result, teachers will have more tools to help deal with a variety of situations.

“… This year, students may work well with doing an online project, but next year students might not do as well with an online project. They may have had all the online learning they want for a while and they want some other type of learning,” Bynum said.