The Missing Ingredient in Science Teacher Preparation: The Role of the Senior Specialist

The traditional model for supervision of pre-service science teachers during the field experience within teacher preparation programs includes the appointment of a university supervisor who is often a retired teacher and/or adjunct faculty and a school-based co-operating teacher who rarely receives training from the university to be a mentor. This can lead to a disconnect between the university supervisor, co-operating teacher, and university, and a disjointed experience for the pre-service teachers.

In 2009, the New York State Education Department and New York State Board of Regents issued a Race to the Top Request for Proposals for Graduate Level Clinically Rich Teacher Preparation Programs. In late 2011, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was awarded a five-year pilot to decrease the shortage of earth science teachers statewide. The position of Senior Specialist in Science and Teacher Education in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at AMNH is a central figure to the urban teacher residency (UTR) model the program has adopted. This model includes a summer working with AMNH Youth Initiatives programs, a full year of mentored residency in schools, a second summer in an AMNH Earth and Planetary Science Department practicum, and a graduate course of study cotaught by scientists and teacher educators that meets subject specific and teaching certification goals. A different design from most science teacher preparation programs, this residency model includes three faculty members who serve as Senior Specialists – mentors in school residency rotations, advisors in teaching as a profession, and co-instructors in academic courses and portfolio development. The Senior Specialist acts as the linchpin between the youth programs, science practicum, and courses as well as a support structure and anchor to the five high need, low achieving partner schools with the ultimate goal of strengthening the pre-service teachers’ experience.

Contino, J. & Cooke-Nieves, N. (2013, January). The missing ingredient in science teacher preparation: The role of the senior specialist. Presented at the meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE), Charleston, SC.