Washington and Lee University and Southern Virginia University have partnered to form the Rockbridge Teacher Education Consortium (RTEC), the first new teacher education program to be approved by the State Board of Education in almost a quarter of a century.
Through RTEC, undergraduate students at the two liberal arts colleges will get a richer teacher education experience and an easier path to licensure. It will also benefit the local school system through professional development and partnering.
The program has been designed to offer more courses, more frequently, and to take advantage of the knowledge, skills and values in the teacher education departments of the two institutions. Students will also benefit from exposure to a range of opinions and interests by interacting with their RTEC peers.
Participating students will travel between the institutions to complete their teacher education courses—SVU is six miles away from W&L in Buena Vista. Prior to RTEC, students enrolled in teacher education at W&L had to travel to Mary Baldwin College in Staunton to take some courses, which were often scheduled in the afternoon, making it difficult for those who had other commitments such as science laboratory or athletics.
Now completely independent of Mary Baldwin, the RTEC colleges will each teach Foundations of Education and the upper-level education courses will be taught at the different schools.
"Neither of the schools has a complete program on its own," said Lenna Ojure, director of the teacher education program and associate professor of education at Washington and Lee. "By pooling our resources we now have the faculty necessary to provide many more courses. For example, Southern Virginia University has some excellent faculty in elementary education which means Washington and Lee doesn't need to hire more people in those areas."
Southern Virginia University will offer three teaching endorsement areas to start: elementary education, music and Spanish which Kaye Hanson, director of teacher education at SVU called "an exciting beginning." SVU is a relatively new college — it opened in 1997 and recently received regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The school expects participation in RTEC to grow over the years.
Washington and Lee has already seen a recent increase in the number of students taking education courses, which Ojure credits in part to students knowing that RTEC was becoming a reality. "We're all very excited because it has taken seven years and a lot of work to bring this program about. We think it has great potential, and we hope many exciting things will come out of it in the future," said Ojure, who recalled that when she began teaching at W&L there were only two education courses that have now burgeoned to 15 courses.
Ojure described running an education program as "really complicated" because it has to provide a program of study at the elementary, middle and secondary levels, with a required number of courses offered on a regular basis. "By collaborating in RTEC the two schools will now have enough volume of students to make this possible," she said.
Also, because it can be hard for students to fit the required student teaching—comparable to holding down a full time job—into their schedule, RTEC will allow students at W&L and SVU to complete a semester of directed teaching after graduation for a low fee. It is hoped that this arrangement will attract more students to earn their teaching licensure, required by the Virginia Department of Education.
A further advantage of RTEC will be more emphasis on and coordination of student fieldwork in local schools. Having an accredited teacher education program also allows RTEC to receive grants to help with professional development in local schools and other programs that would not otherwise be available locally.
The consortium's stated mission is to prepare teachers who are "intelligent, compassionate, honorable, and dynamic leaders in their classrooms, schools, and communities."
The website for the Rockbridge Teacher Education Consortium can be found at http://www.wlu.edu/x22572.xml