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Student teacher positive about balanced calendar

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Christine Blake has done a lot of observing this semester during her student teaching in two elementary schools in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools system in Tennessee.

Most of her time has been spent on the normal teaching routines, but she also was interested in how the teachers feel about the new school calendar.

This year, the school system in Davidson County switched to what is called a balanced calendar -- four quarters with breaks in between and a slightly shortened summer.

"The students and teachers I've worked with enjoy it," said Blake, who will graduate from Vanderbilt University. "There's a little pressure to finish things (before the breaks). It's something they've had to adjust to."

Perhaps Blake was lucky, not having been there during the first semester when everyone was feeling out the newness that included starting school on Aug. 1, two weeks earlier than usual.

That meant those college students who were doing their student teaching had to show up a bit earlier to experience the start of the school year.

"We initially had concerns with the early start date," said Kathy Ganske, a professor of Practice and Director of Elementary Education at Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville. "Having to rethink things and capitalize on certain elements."

In Cabell County, which is considering a switch to a balanced calendar with an even shorter summer break, officials from Marshall University's College of Education expressed some concern at meetings in January and February. They said that starting any earlier than Cabell County does now would be detrimental to student teachers. They contended that the students might not be able to move back to Huntington that early or the fall break could prevent them getting their hours in.

That part didn't impact Blake, but she said showing up earlier shouldn't be a big deal for student teachers because it's a step involved in their future livelihood.

The other benefit for student teachers, Ganske said, are the fall and spring intersessions, which are optional remediation and enrichment opportunities for public school students.

In the fall, she said student teachers spent three days teaching writing during intersession.

"My sense is it provides some opportunities," added Marcy Singer-Gabella, another professor of Practice at Vanderbilt. "(Intersession) opens up ways for our candidates to learn."

It has certainly been a learning opportunity for Blake, who is searching for school systems with balanced calendars to work in next year -- applying in both Davidson County and to her home school system in California.

In the district she was educated in, Blake said there was one elementary school that operated on a balanced calendar. She said it had a "great track record," and it had a waiting list to attend.

"It makes more sense developmentally with what students need," Blake said. "Big benefits for students to have a shorter summer break. I've enjoyed having the balanced calendar."

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