For many first-year teachers, No Child Left Behind leaves more questions than answers

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

The bright-eyed, smiling second-graders in Lori Beth Marchbanks’ classroom are depending on her to mold their minds this year.

Every school day they sit in groupings of chairs, the ones with the tennis balls on the bottom to eliminate the horrible clacking sound, and wait for Marchbanks to share what must seem like a wealth of knowledge.

Of course they aren’t all bright-eyed, they don’t all always smile, some can still make more than their fair share of noise, tennis balls or not, and some don’t really welcome the knowledge.

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Yet, the federal government has said none of them can be left behind.

This time last year, Marchbanks didn’t know nearly as many second-graders, and the classroom desks she was most worried about were the ones she sat in at Mississippi State University.

In college, Marchbanks heard plenty about the No Child Left Behind act of 2001. Now, eight months into her very first teaching job, she’s heard even more.

But she’s still not quite sure how to carry out the act.

&uot;Really, what is it?&uot; Marchbanks said during afternoon bus duty. &uot;We never really dug down and knew what the expectations were. The name was thrown around, but not, this is what it is and what I should do.&uot;

Marchbanks, a teacher at Vidalia Lower Elementary, isn’t alone in her understanding of the new way of teaching.

In Natchez, fifth-grade teacher Lauren Mullins said when she stepped into the classroom on her own this year she &uot;had no earthly clue,&uot; what she should do to meet NCLB.

&uot;Here, I’ve spoken with different teachers and learned from them,&uot; said Mullins, a first-year teacher at McLaurin. &uot;You have to learn when they put you in the room.&uot;

‘Highly qualified’ teachers

Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government requires each state to measure the Adequate Yearly Progress for each student and for nine distinct groups, including categories that divide students by race, economic status and disabilities. Federal funding is available to schools that meet economic requirements. Schools in both the Natchez-Adams and Concordia Parish districts receive Title I funding.

NCLB also requires that by next school year all teachers must be &uot;highly qualified,&uot; a term determined by the level of education those teachers receive.

Providing highly qualified teachers is a task left up to the colleges and universities, and some colleges are moving faster than others, Natchez-Adams Superintendent Anthony Morris said.

&uot;Delta State was already ahead of the game,&uot; Morris said. &uot; They were the only college in the state that was a little ahead when this started. I’m expecting more changes at other schools.&uot;

Being &uot;highly qualified&uot; means, among other things, having certification in specific subject areas for middle school teachers, not just certification in elementary education. Delta State students have had to get certification in two areas for several years.

Delta State’s College of Education is putting a lot more emphasis on standards as a result of NCLB, said Chairman of the Division of Curriculum Instruction, Leadership and Research Sue Jolly.

&uot;We want students to exit fully familiar with Mississippi standards,&uot; Jolly said. &uot;Undergraduates have to have a thorough understanding of curriculum and the frameworks for the state.&uot;

The standards are specific benchmarks a student should have mastered by a certain point in each grade, she said. The state standardized test in Mississippi, the Mississippi Curriculum Test, is written to measure the achievement of those standards.

Jolly said Delta State also emphasizes test score analysis and test preparation. All of these accountability measures factor into overall NCLB requirements, but Jolly said one of the key things her school teaches is adaptability.

&uot;NCLB is very complex, with lots of layers,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s multi-dimensional. I don’t think an undergrad could leave here fully understanding it. That’s why we have student teaching, more field experiences, more hands-on.&uot;

Continual learning

Kate Neal is learning the meaning of the word hands-on.

Neal, of Ferriday, is midway through her required student-teaching job at Vidalia Lower Elementary School. The University of Louisiana at Monroe student has spent the first part of her time working with veteran teacher Julia Walker and a group of bubbly kindergartners.

Neal said she’s never taken a specific class on NCLB, but she’s heard plenty about it.

&uot;In all the education classes you hear it over and over and over again,&uot; Neal said. &uot;They prepare you, but you keep learning.&uot;

Walker, a 12-year teacher who mentors other new teachers, said Neal has come as prepared as any teacher she’s ever seen.

&uot;ULM has done an excellent job with Kate,&uot; Walker said. &uot;She knows about lesson plans and portfolios. But classroom management, transitions and organization, those are things she will have to adjust to.&uot;

Adjustment is the key word, said Concordia Parish Superintendent Kerry Laster, whose district is in the midst of a massive state curriculum overhaul to better meet achievement standards set in NCLB.

&uot;We are in a time when more is expected of teachers than ever before,&uot; Laster said. &uot;The name of that game is change. It’s not staying the same. There’s no way to adequately prepare someone to now stand in front of a classroom. You just have to get out there and do it.&uot;

Laster and Personnel Director Ann Sandidge know part of the NCLB education falls in their hands, an unavoidable fact, they said.

&uot;It’s no longer when you graduate from college, you are done,&uot; Sandidge said.

Sandidge coordinates monthly meetings with all new parish teachers, assigns new teachers a mentor for two years and holds in-depth orientation sessions at the start of each school year.

Professional development for all teachers continues throughout the year.

In Natchez, Morris said it’s much of the same with staff development sessions aimed at explaining the necessary details of NCLB.

&uot;Staff development does add to NCLB,&uot; he said. &uot;A staff development session covering the whole thing is totally overwhelming to anyone, so we break it up.&uot;

The state has also offered certification workshops that many local teachers have attended, he said.

Looking ahead

The constant change is continuing at the higher education level, though, as colleges continue to redesign their programs to adapt to NCLB.

ULM has done a complete redesign of the undergraduate program, said Gary Stringer, director of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

A redesign of the graduate program is under way.

&uot;You have to incorporate it and make sure they are addressing those guidelines of NCLB. Before, they didn’t,&uot; he said.

ULM students are first introduced to NCLB in the Foundations of Education class they take, and after that the legislation is incorporated into all classes.

&uot;It has become a primary concern in our redesign to ensure we have those type of things incorporated into our courses and curriculum,&uot; Stringer said.

These redesigned programs are something that Louisiana Assistant State Superintendent Sheila Talamo is looking forward to. &uot;A teacher that comes out of a new program is going to meet the requirements,&uot; Talamo said.