Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Tanya Robertson Uses Experience and Technology to Give Education Undergrads and Edge

tanyarobertsonWith 10 years of teaching under her belt and the desire for a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, Tanya Robertson was the ideal candidate to help lead the fledgling Teach Live program in the School of Education. Partnered with an ex-principal who goes only by “Mr. C.”, Robertson now presides over near-daily sessions of Education undergraduates learning the finer points of classroom management.

Classroom management, according to Robertson, can be one of the hardest things for a first-time teacher to learn. With this in mind, the goal of the Teach Live program is to give students experience in this practical aspect of teaching that is so often excluded from traditional training.

Mr. C. describes Teach Live as “an interactive program that allows all our juniors in the School of Ed, when they take their first two big education courses, to teach a lesson in the Teach Live Lab…Tanya and I have a rubric that we take turns doing, marking them on certain things we look for in a teacher. It’s a good way to practice teaching experience without having real students. If they make a mistake, they aren’t hurting anything! We don’t expect them to be perfect.”

Teach Live, which is in its 4th year of implementation at the University of Mississippi, hinges on an elaborate Skype-based system by which Education majors can give a lesson to a class of middle school aged “children”. These children are portrayed by animated avatars, but they are voiced by real adults, some of whom have backgrounds in theater or education. The five “students” in the Teach Live classroom have a variety of personalities, including a disruptive child, a sleepy child, and a child who is distracted by her cell phone. These types are all, according to Robertson and Mr. C., very realistic and true to the types of students that a teacher will one day experience in their classes.

One of the “students” is very quiet and withdrawn, intelligent but hesitant to come forward, and he shows some subtle signs of being abused. Ideally the “teachers” will take note of these signs, because, as Mr. C. says, “It’s oftentimes a teacher who first discovers these things because they’re with the kids all day long.”

In her capacity as a Teach Live coordinator, Robertson relishes the opportunity to pass on the knowledge she’s gained as a teacher. She said, “It worked out great, because I’m able to get my Master’s and still work in education! I’ve always taught first and second grade, so this is a different age group for me, but I love being able to take what I’ve learned from my experiences and offer suggestions to them, whether it be classroom management suggestions or instructional suggestions. I’ve learned a lot. Hopefully they’ve learned a lot!”

There’s solid evidence to suggest that the students have been learning and gaining real insight from Teach Live and Robertson’s suggestions. Students participate in Teach Live twice, once per semester of their junior year. Robertson says, “There aren’t as many nerves in the second semester!…Mr. C. and I both agree, every single student has shown a tremendous amount of growth from the first time they did it in the fall to the second time. And that’s what’s so encouraging to him as a principal and to me as a teacher, to see the confidence that grows in them. I think we can see the suggestions we offer them the first semester put them into play the second time. I just feel like they’re much more prepared after this!”

Mr. C. couldn’t say enough in praise of Robertson’s teaching abilities. “Tanya is a 10-year veteran teacher…I tell people, if I were still principal at Oxford Elementary, I would be trying to hire her away from Lafayette Elementary! She has done more for this program than anything, since I’ve been doing it. She is a jewel.”

Whether or not Robertson has administrative aspirations is unknown, but Mr. C. has high hopes for the Master’s student. “I’ve been pushing her to get her principal’s license. What she does in here is a very principal-like thing, supervising other teachers, and I think she’d be great.”

 Teach Live is still a young program, and Robertson is in her first year of facilitating it, but there already seem to be very noticeable benefits, both for the students and the proctor. This may bode well for the future of the program, as the University of Mississippi is currently the only institution in the state to put it into practice.