Stanford News


CONTACT: Elaine C. Ray, News Service (415) 723-7162;

Middle school 101

At the Peterson Middle School in Sunnyvale, Donna Kashat makes several attempts to get 22 seventh and eighth graders to quiet down and listen to her instructions. The lesson she is teaching is designed to help students distinguish between speculation and fact, while using their imaginations, their observation skills and their ability to work in groups. But things are not going as smoothly as she planned. Students are engaged in the tasks but are noisy and unresponsive when Kashat tries to get their attention. Neither a review of class conduct rules nor the ejection of a disruptive student seems to help. Kashat, who is being observed by several other teachers, is not only exasperated but embarrassed.

"My class was a bomb!" says Kashat as she dismisses her students then rushes to the canteen to do lunch duty. Doling out sandwiches, chips, candy and various other snacks, she acknowledges that the students ultimately followed through on the assignment, yet she continues to second-guess herself. Kashat, who earned her undergraduate degree in Japanese and Asian studies from the University of Michigan, has taught Japanese and English as a Second Language to high school students and adults for six years. But her first foray into middle school is a real test of her confidence.

Kashat is one of 63 students who recently enrolled in the School of Education's Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP). STEP is a 12-month master's program designed to give graduate students the intellectual and practical experience they need to be effective secondary school teachers.

The Stanford Summer Teaching School, in which Kashat has conducted her lesson, is designed to help STEP students get their feet wet early. This year, the program is being held at the Peterson School, a sprawling, grassy campus complete with an ecological preserve. Approximately 350 incoming 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students are enrolled in the four-week program. The summer school offers a variety of subjects, including language arts, science, English, art, drama and math. With an experienced master teacher and several STEP students, the student-teacher ratio in each class is about five to one.

Much of the STEP students' time is spent observing and assisting master teachers. They also are involved in lesson-planning and have a few opportunities to teach. After the middle schoolers leave at 12:30, STEP students spend an hour talking with their teachers about the day's events. On Wednesday afternoons STEP students attend a workshop on a specific subject, such as special education, while master teachers compare notes.

Salaries of this year's 12 master teachers are paid by the Santa Clara Unified School District, which also covers the cost of transporting students by bus. Stanford pays for the master teachers' after-school debriefing with STEP students and hires a program coordinator who acts as a liaison between the university and the school. In recent years Stanford's School of Education has received external gifts for the summer school.

"We are grateful to the Koret Foundation and to the Quantum Corporation, funders who have been interested in this project since its inception, as it is such an obvious win-win for both STEP teachers and for participating children," says education school Dean Richard Shavelson.

Eighth grader Eron Martin certainly thinks the program is a winner. Martin is a participant in the Stanford EPASSA program, which stands for East Palo Alto Stanford Summer Academy. EPASSA students spend half their day on the Peterson campus and the other half on the Farm. Although EPASSA is largely separate from the summer school program, STEP students teach in the academy classes and EPASSA students take some classes with the Santa Clara summer school students. "It's fun," says Martin. "The people are friendly. I know more about poetry."

For Tracy McLachlan, a STEP student who works in the EPASSA program, the summer school is her first formal teaching experience. "It's harder than I anticipated," she says. McLachlan, whose class has focused on creative writing and poetry, says her biggest challenge has been getting students to overcome their inhibitions about expressing themselves in front of one another.

The challenges do not end when the summer school day is done, however. After STEP students leave the Peterson School around 1:30, they have to race to Stanford's campus for classes that last until the early evening.

"It's a nice way to introduce them real quick," says education Professor David Fetterman.

The program benefits the participating school system as well. "The Stanford students give us an opportunity to do a lot of one-on-one with students that we wouldn't be able to," says Nancy Tucker, principal of the summer school. "It gives us the opportunity to be innovative."

There is a continuum between the summer school and the STEP students' campus experience. The lesson Kashat was teaching her middle school class was one she had done earlier that week in a Stanford class she is taking called Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development, or CLAD. Kashat's summer school master teacher, Kristina Hall, is a STEP graduate who understands what she's going through.

When the Summer Teaching School ends July 18, Kashat and her fellow STEP students will finish up their summer quarter courses. This fall, they will continue to juggle their academic coursework and practicum requirements. STEP students must teach a secondary course for a year under the direct supervision of a teacher or participate in a paid internship in which they have full responsibility for teaching a year-long course.

Despite the demands, most students say they came to Stanford precisely because they could get a master's and a teaching credential in one year. Hemali Naik, an aspiring high school chemistry teacher who worked in industry before coming to Stanford in June, says the summer school has given her some of the confidence she will need to teach a room full of restless youngsters. "What helps me most is I didn't think I could handle middle school students. I needed this perspective."


By Elaine Ray