By Joanna Curtis
John McConnell had an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of
Tennessee and was working as a systems analyst in New York when he opened a fateful
e-mail. “I had mulled over becoming a teacher for a long time,” McConnell said. “I
wanted to do it, but it was hard to make the leap.
“The message in my inbox was about a new program at the University of Memphis that
would pay my graduate school tuition and, because I would actually be teaching part
time while I got my degree, provide me with a paycheck.
“The application deadline was just a few weeks away,” he recalled. “I would be completely
changing my life, but I decided to go for it. It was the best move I ever made.”
The program that McConnell applied for and was accepted into was the “Three Rs” program,
a collaborative between the U of M’s colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences and
Memphis City Schools.
“Three Rs” – which stands for Recruitment and Retention through the Reinvention of
Teacher Education – is a program to field test a clinically-based, accountability-
driven model of teacher education,” said Dr. Marty Alberg, principal investigator
and assistant dean for P-12 programs in the College of Education. “Our aim is to recruit
individuals with an undergraduate degree in math or science and prepare them to teach
in high-need, urban middle school settings.”
The “Three Rs” program at the University of Memphis aims to prepare individuals with
a math or science undergraduate degree for teaching in high-need, urban middle schools.
The program has been touted as “unique” and “exceptional” in preparing new teachers.
Above, members of the First Cohort of Fellows enjoy a team-building retreat.
Two cohorts of fellows took part in the pilot, which included three phases: An introductory
three-day Team Trek team-building experience followed by an intensive series of summer
courses; an internship year, during which each fellow shared a middle school math
or science teaching position with another fellow and was supervised by a full-time,
on-site mentor; and ongoing support from a mentor during their first year of full-time
The three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education that funded the pilot ends
this year, when the second cohort of fellows completes their first year of full-time
teaching. All twelve teaching fellows from Cohort I continue to teach, including 10
in Memphis City Schools. For Cohort II, 16 fellows were hired. Ten completed the program
and all were re-hired for their second year of teaching.
Tuition for the participants’ Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) was paid for through
the federal grant in the form of a forgivable loan. Fellows fulfill their service
requirement and, therefore, repay their loans, by completing the program and subsequently
serving as a teacher for two-years in a high-need school in a highneed district.
McConnell, who is now teaching 7th grade science and coaching soccer at Snowden School,
said, “It was ‘heads-first’ into teaching, but I couldn’t imagine doing this any other
way. The program was so valuable for me, coming from a different discipline.
“What made the program work so well was having a full-time mentor during that first
year,” he added. “She let us experience the challenges, but was there to give us guidance
and share her experiences. The cohort model helped, too. There were other people in
the same boat; we learned from each other, commiserated and gave each other support.
I still turn to them for advice.”
The Collaborative for Teaching and Learning agreed with McConnell’s assessment that
“Three Rs” works. A report from the Louisville, Ky.-based organization states, “Three
Rs provides a unique and exceptional approach to preparing new teachers. While no
pilot is perfect – the very nature of a pilot being to experiment and learn from new
practices and approaches – the Three Rs program constitutes a bold step forward in
re-designing teacher education.”