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TeachHouse helps Duke grads transition as teachers

A new program allows Duke graduates pursuing a career in education to take part in a unique two-year, living-learning community.

Currently home to two seasoned teachers and four novice teachers, TeachHouse—which officially launched Sept. 2 at a historic home in Durham's Cleveland-Holloway community—is a new program designed to help graduates of the University's teacher preparation programs with their transition into the classroom. The program collaborates with Durham public schools and guides teachers during their first years at local elementary and secondary schools. Jan Riggsbee, director and co-founder of TeachHouse and associate professor of the practice in the Program in Education, said that TeachHouse is the first of its kind and strives to reinvigorate a teaching scene currently at risk.

“Caring, engaged and effective teachers are a community’s and a nation’s greatest resource,” Riggsbee said. “Public education is at a critical crossroads, and the time is ripe for innovation and problem-solving to meet the many challenges in today’s schools.”

TeachHouse aims to offer a mix of personal and professional support in addition to fostering discussion, problem-solving and bonding. 

“Teaching is a very emotionally involved missionyou need to be very available and present in order to connect with students," said TeachHouse fellow Shannon Potter, Trinity ’15. "This sense of community has given me the backing that I need.”

Potter and the other fellows learn everyday teaching skills, such as reordering math notebooks, as well as how to handle larger challenges—including working with parents and students with special needs—in a collaborative environment. 

“I really could not imagine starting out without TeachHouse," said Erin McInerney, Trinity '15. "It would be so difficult to navigate this all independently. Certainly, there are plenty of resources and supportive staff at Duke, but nothing really beats this informal and candid interaction on a daily basis.” 

Apart from having formal and informal debriefs, fellows also engage in weekly reflections and dine regularly with local education leaders. McInerney said TeachHouse enables her to think about the broader framework of education in Durham and the accomplishments and challenges that it experiences as a district.

Next year, McInerney and fellow first-year teachers will mentor the new teachers and seek to solve problems found during their first year of teaching. 

The implementation of this novel concept at Duke will soon spread to other institutions, Riggsbee explained. Recently, TeachHouse was visited by the Dean of the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and in the past few months, Riggsbee and co-founder of TeachHouse Christopher Gergen have fielded several questions about the program from other universities.

TeachHouse comes at a pivotal time for education in North Carolina. In the past five years, the hostile political climate and low teacher salaries in the state have provided insufficient incentives for newcomers to enter the field and even prompted local teachers to depart for other states. 

Despite these challenges, Riggsbee notes a sustained interest in important issues regarding education among Duke students. 

“Our program enrolls more than 600 students in its undergraduate and graduate courses each year," Riggsbee said. "Of these students, typically 30-35 complete a teacher preparation program and earn their professional teaching license, whether in elementary or secondary education.”

McInerney concurred and expressed her excitement about the variety of ways that TeachHouse could empower students to pursue a career in education.

“TeachHouse will open undergraduates’ eyes and allow the new generations at Duke to see teaching in a brand new light,” she said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that McInerney is a senior. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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