Some schools are exploring a new teaching model with 5 teachers & 80-100 students. Here's how it works

Posted at 5:53 AM, May 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 10:11:52-04

(WXYZ) — The teacher shortage is a nationwide problem, and it's even prompted some schools in Arizona to redesign school staffing in a non-traditional way.

Because some schools in Michigan are considering this, I wanted to hear from you about it. Last week, I posted a question on WXYZ's Facebook page, asking people if they think Michigan's teacher shortage could be dealt with by changing the traditional teaching model from one teacher instructing 25-30 students to five-six teachers instructing 80-100 students in a classroom.

I had no idea how fired up people would get about this topic, and more than 1,200 people responded.

Kimberly Brinker said, in part, "As a parent, I wouldn't want my child to learn in an environment like this. There's already enough distraction in a classroom with 25 students."

Brian Cohen wrote, in part, "From a retired teacher, this idea won't work. My best classes had lower class sizes."

Elizabeth Brett added, in part,"As a retired secondary teacher of over 30 years, this sounds awful. Have you seen 100 kids in a room before?"

Annmarie Werba Bragdon said, "Truly the only way to answer this question is to talk to the teachers who are currently working with our students. They are the qualified ones to answer!"

I decided to talk with the man behind the effort to bring the new teaching model to schools in Michigan and also spoke with some educators in Detroit who are actually going to roll it out.

Ndidi Onike-Onuzulike is an 8th grade model teacher at Detroit Academy of the Arts and Sciences, a charter school many refer to as DAAS.

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It's a school like many across the country that is grappling with the teacher shortage, and she's ready to try a new team teaching approach after witnessing it herself.

"I'm still, I'm 'thumbs up' in the lower grades. And then kind of like 'thumbs in the middle' for middle school," she said.

She joined educators from 10 or so other Michigan school districts on a trip to Arizona earlier this year to watch Arizona State University's "Next Education Workforce Initiative" in action.

The strategic staffing model brings 80-100 students into a classroom with multiple teachers. After seeing it first-hand, she was impressed.

"You're telling parents they shouldn't worry about a larger class size?" I asked.

"They should not," Onike-Onuzulike said. "I'm telling them because I, the, there is more student-to-teacher interaction in the shared space.”

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Dr. Monica McLeod, the Lead Instructional Specialist at DAAS, says the team-teaching approach looks different at different schools.

”At any given time, the 100 students are not going to be in one room. We just don't have the facilities for that. And that's not even the idea. The idea is that the strongest literacy teacher would teach the students, and if there's a new practitioner, that person would stand alongside the strong, experienced practitioner. And they might have a larger group of 35, 40 students in front of them," McLeod said.

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So, an exemplary teacher would lead the charge, and newer teachers would support them while also get the mentoring they need — a method aiming to retain newer teachers and reinvigorate veteran educators.

“How hard is it to hire teachers these days?” I asked Lawrence Hood, the Chief Academic Officer at DAAS.

“It is very hard to hire teachers," he said.

He said the charter school currently pays certified teachers $100,000 if they have five years of experience and are highly effective in their craft. But the challenge is finding enough certified teachers to fill their openings.

"Now we're actually chasing down people when they come to a job fair, because you may get one or two people that come to your booth," he said.

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Jack Elsey, the founder of the Michigan Educator Workforce Initiative, has coordinated the trips to Arizona to introduce Michigan educators to the idea of "learning studios." In some cases, 70-120 students are lead by up to six teachers — one "teacher executive designer," two team teachers, and three "teacher candidates."

"When I think of 80 to 100, even 150 kids in one classroom, I'm kind of thinking of a school assembly or the cafeteria, and a lot of times that's really hard to manage," I said.

"It's hard to think about this model in specific physical spaces. There are lots of different ways in which to group students. Some of the schools in Arizona put a door in the wall between classrooms, right, to help facilitate the flow of different student groups. Some didn't do that at all. Some just had students rotate between classrooms for different groupings based on, you know, what students needed," he said.

He's confident this could be a game changer.

"What we know to be true from the schools that have adopted this model in Arizona is that teachers are staying longer. They are calling out less. There is less of a requirement for substitute teachers because when you have a team of teachers and somebody calls out, the other four say, 'We've got this. It's okay. We can handle this,'" he said.

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Of course, selling the team teaching model on teachers and parents here in Michigan is a lesson plan still in the works.

DAAS will be rolling out the new teaching model next fall to at least one grade level, possibly two.

Elsey said there are three other school districts in Michigan that are going to launch the new teaching model this fall in at least one grade level.

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