In recent years, the St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, education program has experienced unprecedented growth.
The undergraduate program’s enrollment in 2008 was 102 students. However, now in 2012, 275 students have made the school’s education department the second largest on campus.
One of the main factors in this success has been the emphasis on preparation through the program’s student teaching portion of the curriculum. The school’s mission is to produce caring, qualified and competent teachers, and that process starts long before a student leads a classroom. In the upcoming spring semester, 50 St. Francis students will serve as student teachers – the largest number in program history.
In the program, students devote 100 hours to teacher observation and another 300 hours to supervised instruction, which occurs during their final semester in the program. Most students spend all five weekdays at their host schools even though the N.Y.S. Education Department only requires four days on the premises.
The preparation for student teaching begins with a dedicated faculty. Six full-time professors, 15 adjunct professors and an administrative assistant treat their jobs as more than nine-to-five positions and always make themselves available for the students.
“It’s a pleasure working in a situation where everyone believes the students come first, and I believe that is the mission of the college,” said Dr. Peter Leibman, an associate professor, the program’s director of student teaching and a 1971 graduate of St. Francis. “You can feel it as you walk through the buildings.”
In accordance with the student-first mentality, Leibman and the faculty pride themselves in getting to know every single student in the program well. As a result, faculty members feel comfortable giving their students recommendations for jobs.
“That’s the most important component of the program,” Leibman said. “We’re not that large a program, so we really believe that the more we know about our students, the more effective we’re going to be.”
In addition to the 300 hours of student teaching, the students attend weekly seminars, conducted by Leibman, in which they develop their educational philosophies and learn job interviewing techniques and networking skills.
Starting this fall, the faculty instituted several breakout sessions each semester where the students and professors meet in small groups to assess the practical application of what they’ve learned through student teaching. This continues to foster the program’s emphasis on creating a personal connection with students.
“We try to get our students to get into that practice too, because the more information they have about the students they’re going to teach, the more effective they’re going to be,” Leibman said.
During the final semester, students are formally observed by their faculty supervisors three times. However, before that, students prepare and teach two 30-minute lessons to their classmates as part of their preparation. Leibman also meets individually with each student to review his or her progress.
Technology has played a role in preparing St. Francis students for their student teaching. Students are filmed during their practice lessons and receive instruction on how to enhance their teaching through the use of multimedia.
“It allows them to deliver information in a multitude of ways to reach all types of learners,” said Dr. Marina Gair, Ph.D., an assistant education professor who recently began teaching a class specifically geared toward the implementation of technology in the classroom.
The St. Francis education program has also flourished from the development of partnership schools in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens – denoted by a St. Francis College banner hanging on the outside of the school.
St. Francis provides approximately 15-20 local schools with student teachers. The principals of each school place the students with quality teachers so that they can get further training. In return, St. Francis offers usage of the college’s facilities to the partnership schools for activity days and programs run by the college’s students.
Quite often, these partnership schools offer full-time positions to their student teachers. For example, Principal Dominick D’Angelo of I.S. 228 David A. Boody, Gravesend, has hired seven St. Francis graduates full-time, including four in the last three years.
“They always look to go above and beyond,” D’Angelo said. “There’s definitely a great program and something special happening at St. Francis when it comes to their educational program.”
Finding Jobs Immediately
This past summer, Leibman contacted 120 recent graduates to measure the program’s success in job placement. Of those 120, 81 have full-time teaching jobs, including eight that are already deans in their respective schools. Eight have been hired as full-time leave replacements, 12 have jobs as substitutes and another three are working part-time as teachers or coaches.
“Our students are getting jobs in record numbers, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re putting them in quality schools for their preparation,” Leibman said.
Not only are St. Francis students being hired, but they are also being retained based on their emphasis on what they learned in college: the mentality of getting to know each individual student.
“I feel that I learned how to immerse my students in subject areas and not just lecture them,” said Amanda Krol, a 2009 graduate who is now teaching at Garden School, Jackson Heights. “The professors taught us how to be creative with information that we have to teach students.”
St. Francis students also tend to score well on state certification exams. Faculty members voluntarily aid in their students’ preparation, and as a result, over 90 percent of students pass the exams.
With the program’s recent success, local schools with teaching openings seek St. Francis students, since their educational background has prepared them well. The outlook is bright as the school strengthens its already notable reputation.
“Commitment is the most important thing I learned from St. Francis,” said Chris Mondella, a 2009 graduate and current teacher at Gateway Academy, Rockaway. “The staff at St. Francis is so selfless and committed that it can become contagious. St. Francis has taught me that commitment will make the difference in your students’ lives.”
The Franciscan ideals of service, mutual respect and caring will continue to drive St. Francis education students as they serve the New York melting pot community. To find out more information about the program, visit www.sfc.edu/education.