“It’s never too early to begin taking action to achieve your unique professional goals,” is advice frequently shared by school, college and unit career teams in partnership with Syracuse University Career Services. Supporting students within their unique trajectory to career…
Training the Next Generation of Inclusive Education Teachers Through the Bridge to the City Program on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
For nearly 25 years, the School of Education has offered aspiring inclusive education teachers a unique opportunity to hone their skills as student teachers in New York City through the Bridge to the City program.
It’s an immersive, semester-long guided student teaching experience where students entering their senior year are placed in partner schools in urban neighborhoods to learn under the watchful eye of cooperating teachers.
Created in 1998, Bridge to the City was established to tap into some of the best practices that were occurring in schools in New York City, providing an opportunity for School of Education students to participate in a hands-on student teaching opportunity while learning from talented teachers in school environments throughout the city.
Occurring each fall semester, interested students need to apply for and be accepted into the program, with cohort sizes ranging from eight to 14 student teachers per semester.
Not only do these student teachers receive valuable teaching experiences through the Bridge to the City program, but they also get to live in New York City with their fellow teachers, creating a supportive environment where they can learn from each other and offer up support to their fellow student teachers. And, more often than not, program graduates will earn a full-time teaching job once they graduate from Bridge to the City.
Tom Bull, assistant teaching professor and director of field relations in the School of Education, directs Bridge to the City, while Abby Horton ’19, a Bridge to the City alumna, landed her job teaching kindergarten and first grade at Midtown West School thanks in large part to her experiences with Bridge to the City.
“I remembered feeling really, really empowered and excited to be there on my first day. I got to do more than I expected to be able to do, and the educators were really open to trying new things and open to handing their classrooms over,” says Horton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in inclusive elementary and special education.
“That’s been a hallmark of the program throughout, the opportunity for our students to connect with schools that are doing some really innovative instructional approaches to teaching, creating inclusive spaces for teaching and also for student learning,” Bull says.
Bull and Horton stopped by to discuss the program, how it helps train and prepare the next generation of inclusive education teachers, the valuable role the School of Education and Syracuse University have played in their lives, and more.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
Check out episode 126 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Tom Bull and Abby Horton ’19. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01What makes the Bridge to the City program so impactful for our student teachers?
Tom: “One of the hallmarks of the School of Education that sets us apart is we have our students in the field a lot. They get into schools their freshman year, so by the time they get to student teaching, they have experience working with a wide range of students. With Bridge to the City, we’ve been able to develop relationships with these schools that really mirror our inclusive philosophy here at Syracuse and in the School of Education. The thing we hear from the schools is they want Syracuse University students because our students are so well prepared that by the time they are in their student teaching semester, they are accomplished and ready to jump in. Our student teachers are sponges, soaking things up while really working well with the teachers that are down there.”
02What was so appealing about becoming a student teacher in the program, and what was that first day like in the classroom?
Abby: “It’s twofold. It’s a chance to teach in a New York City school. It’s fun to be able to do a semester there and have the support of your professors and your fellow student teachers. But the schools are really cool here, and the teachers here are walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to the lessons we’re learning in our programs. It’s nice to see it all in action. They threw us right in. It was really hands-on and it was such a cool experience. I got to do more in the classroom than I expected to be able to do. The educators were really open to trying new things and open to handing their classroom over and sharing it with me. I felt like one of the educators in the classroom and not just like a student teacher. It was really empowering and exciting.”
03Why are our students so well-equipped to handle this challenge?
Tom: “We have professors that have high expectations for our students. Our courses are rigorous and challenging. But we understand that for excellence to happen you have to be able to take chances, you have to take risks and you have to challenge yourself. That’s a consistent message our students hear from their freshman year on. By the time they get to their senior year, they are exceptionally prepared to step into that role and take over with confidence. We’re working with inclusive classrooms, so you’ve got kids of all sorts of backgrounds, needs and abilities. Our students are prepared to be able to support students in ways that work best for those students because they’ve had that experience.”
04How do the student teachers in the program learn from and rely on each other?
Abby: “The support is a big part of it. Knowing that you’re going down there with a cohort of your peers who are also going through the same things makes you really close. You have each other to lean on, but our professors are coming to New York City and checking in on you, too. It felt like a big leap and a big challenge, but we felt supported and it felt safe to try new things and put yourself out there in the classroom, knowing you had people to fall back on.”
05What was it like to cross the bridge and go from being a student teacher to being a cooperating teacher where you're the person the student teacher is looking to for guidance?
Abby: “I knew what was expected and I knew what my student teacher was looking for, so having that insight was really helpful. I always say I don’t claim to know it all, but I do claim to be reflective and believe we can accomplish our goals together. Especially now, my classroom has changed a lot, so I’ve really needed an extra adult in the room to bounce ideas off of. Having someone who’s as like-minded as me has been a really huge support.”
06Given the teaching challenges presented by COVID-19, how can this program evolve?
Tom: “Education is ever-evolving. What I like about the schools we work with is they’re all very student-centered. The decisions they make are based on the needs of the students while being inclusive. That’s what our focus is on in regards to best practices at the School of Education. There’s also something called Integrated Co-Taught (ICT) classrooms, where you have a general education teacher and a special education teacher in the classroom together and it’s pretty common in those districts. Our students get the opportunity to see really strong collaboration on a day-to-day basis, which is really important. We do a good job of teaching our students how to work with students and teaching our student teachers how to work with students, but sometimes the tricky part is how do you work with other adults? Here, we are giving them an opportunity to see that done at a really high level, and that’s a huge benefit to the program.”