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Teacher training: what's the best way?

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"The university does a good job of giving them content. We give them the hands-on experience of how to deliver it," says Debbi Thompson, a mentor-teacher at Chicago's Dodge Renaissance Academy. The K-8 school, where 86 percent of the students come from low-income families, is one of AUSL's six "teaching academies" in Chicago. It's also where Barack Obama announced his choice for education secretary.

Ms. Thompson is in the unusual position of having two residents in her classroom. Now, three-quarters of the way through the school year, each of them gets several weeks in which they take over all the lesson planning and teaching and receive feedback on how they've done. They've learned a lot, they say, but still have areas to work on – and they appreciate the length of time and the close mentor-resident relationship that they wouldn't get in a traditional program.

"Sometimes when you're in that moment with your kids, it's hard to see things you might be missing," says Danielle Silverman, referring to the benefits of having a mentor. She's just finished a poetry lesson with her fourth- and fifth-grade class, and it generally went well. But the feedback afterward, she says, helped her realize that she was giving directions to her students at the same time that she was posing questions and asking them to write.

In an aspect unique to Chicago's program, almost all AUSL grads end up being hired at certain "turnaround" schools that the city has given AUSL to run. These schools, among the worst performers in the city, have had their administration and most of the teaching staff replaced.

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