By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – School’s in for 39 soon-to-be teachers.
Tuesday’s lesson focused on giving the prospective teachers in the Mississippi Alternate Path program sophisticated tools to maintain classroom discipline and create a safe learning environment.
“Instead of telling them ‘Don’t talk,’ … you’ve got to tell them what you want to do in an assertive voice,” counseled Donna Porter, a national award-winning teacher from Memorial High School in Picayune during Tuesday’s alternate path class at Itawamba Community College’s Belden campus.
Porter introduced the class of new teachers to the concept of Conscious Discipline. The idea is to create a cooperative environment where students feel a sense of community. Teachers are still in charge, but foster a sense of cooperation instead of competition.
“People need to feel connected,” Porter said. “For today’s kids, punishment doesn’t deter the problem.”
Classroom management is one of the key areas of focus for the alternate path program, said Instructor Phyllis Clemmer, who was teaching the Belden group with Debbie Madjlesi.
“If you don’t have good classroom management,” Clemmer said, “you can’t teach your class.”
The students, who have earned a bachelor’s degree and passed two tests, are training intensely to learn how to manage middle and high school classrooms, plan lessons and navigate as a teacher.
“These are educated people,” said Clemmer, noting the program has helped engineers, bankers and even a retired FBI agent transition to classroom teachers.
The three-week summer course focuses on classroom management, rules and procedures, learning styles and teaching strategies. During their first year in the classroom, the new teachers will be back for Saturday classes, too.
The program has trained more than 2,500 teachers since it began in 2002 as a way to address the shortage of middle and high school teachers in Mississippi,
“It’s like teacher boot camp,” said Tupelo Middle School drama teacher Lindsay Brett, who went through the program in 2004 and is now back working in the alternate route program for school leaders.
“I owe it all to this program,” Brett said.