One of the most important elements of MTSU’s top-rated teacher preparation program — ranked the No. 1 producer of the most effective teachers in Tennessee by the state — is getting future educators into classrooms for hands-on teaching experience.
Shannon Harmon, associate professor of education, said these experiences would not be possible without the partnership between the university’s College of Education, local school districts and local teachers.
“These teachers are key in preparing teacher candidates to be successful while in their coursework and their first years of teaching,” Harmon said. “We just simply cannot prepare our candidates without them. These mentor teachers do not have to put one more thing on their plate, but they do. They are heroes who deserve all recognition!”
Last year, to formally recognize these local mentor teachers, Harmon helped organize an Elementary and Special Education Partnership Committee to select and present Mentor Teachers of Excellence awards to educators who had been nominated by the MTSU education student-teachers they had mentored.
“We just had a blast last year going out to our host schools and mentor teachers’ classrooms presenting them with these awards,” she said, knowing they had to make it an annual tradition. “It was just a special time; we had to do it again! To honor them, their dedication to the profession and their dedication to preparing future teachers.”
The committee, which includes Harmon and education faculty Pam Ertel, Janna McClain and Tom Black, used a rubric to score submissions and selected at least one recipient from each undergraduate program in the college:
- Megan Smith from Rock Springs Elementary in Rutherford County Schools for the early childhood education award.
- Donna Karrh from Northfield Elementary in Murfreesboro City Schools for the elementary education award.
- Wilson Boyd from Sunset Middle in Williamson County Schools for the middle school education award.
- Amanda Turnbo from Overall Creek Elementary in MCS for the special education award.
- Melanie Haupt from Smyrna High in RCS for the secondary education award.
Well-prepared MTSU education students
Megan Smith, who teaches kindergarten at Rock Springs, said she elected to be a mentor teacher because she had her own amazing mentor who made her appreciate its benefits for future teachers.
“It is very humbling to be recognized and appreciated by my student teacher and faculty at the Early Childhood Education Department, all of whom I greatly respect,” said the Clarksville, Tennessee, native. “MTSU teacher candidates are very prepared and competent. They are a sweet and hardworking group who are excited to come into the classroom and make a difference in children’s lives.”
Donna Karrh, fourth-grade teacher at Northfield Elementary, was a nontraditional student herself, returning to school when her own children went to college to earn her Master of Education at MTSU in the job-embedded, initial licensure program.
“It was important to me to open my classroom to teacher candidates because so many wonderful teachers were gracious enough to mentor me and allow me to teach lessons in their classrooms when I was at MTSU,” said Karrh, who is originally from Marietta, Georgia. “It is very humbling to receive this award because I work with teachers and mentors of excellence daily. Knowing that Ms. Land (her MTSU student-teacher) took time to complete the nomination when she was also working on completing her course work … was even more humbling.”
Wilson Boyd, who teaches eighth-grade social studies at Sunset Middle, said he had no idea about the awards beforehand and that it was a nice recognition.
“My student-teacher and I were essentially co-teachers for several weeks before she took over primary teaching responsibilities,” said Boyd, who is from Tupelo, Mississippi. “She has been professional and diligent. She worked hard to establish a rapport with students and master the content quickly. She was well-prepared in terms of how to run a classroom and the essentials of executing a quality lesson.”
The placement was so successful Sunset Middle hired student-teacher Victoria Dunn to teach eighth-grade social studies this upcoming school year.
Amanda Turnbo, special education teacher at Overall Creek Elementary, said the award means a lot to her.
“It is a way to pay it forward and give back,” said the Parsons, Tennessee, native. “The education profession is seeing fewer and fewer graduates, so I am happy to mentor and show the incoming teachers that it is an awesome profession and there are many great, rewarding things in this career! Hopefully my paying it forward and mentoring others will then encourage them to do the same.”
Melanie Haupt, math teacher at Smyrna High, also said she became a mentor teacher to “pay it forward” after the focus on mentorship in earning her doctorate in mathematics and science education at MTSU.
“It is my hope that creating a more welcoming environment from the beginning will increase their chances of having more successful beginnings, which will blossom into long careers,” said Haupt, a Burke, Virginia, native.
“(The award) tells me the education student feels prepared to be in the classroom,” she said. “It tells me that my efforts have been appreciated and impactful, and it only reinforces my desire to continue mentoring others. The MSE (MTSU doctorate program) helped me prepare future educators.”
As Shannon Harmon wrapped up a second successful year of award presentations with great feedback about MTSU students from their mentor teachers, she said the future possibilities are endless.
“One thing is clear — we will continue to celebrate and honor our partners in this and other unique ways. We love our host schools and mentor teachers!”
MTSU is looking to further solidify its relationship with local school districts with the recent launch of its Tennessee Teach Back Initiative. The effort seeks to help recruit prospective teachers from school districts within high-needs, rural areas of the state, train them at MTSU and return them to teach in their local communities.
To learn more about the opportunities at MTSU’s College of Education, visit the website at https://www.mtsu.edu/education/.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)
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