80 percent of online comments collected by state support leaving Common Core unchanged _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux speaks at a press conference in this August 2013 Advocate file photo.

State education leaders Wednesday held the first in a series of forums to find ways to give new teachers more real-world training before they are put in charge of classrooms.

The gathering, called the Educator Preparation Policy Forum, attracted superintendents, regents, members of the state Board of Elementary and Education, and others.

One of the themes is that teachers need more time “with real-life kids in real-life classrooms,” Hannah Dietsch, assistant superintendent for the Office of Talent, told the group.

A state survey found that half of teachers contacted said they were ill-prepared for the classroom in their first year.

Under current rules, prospective teachers are supposed to spend at least 180 hours of student teaching before they finish their education degree requirements — roughly five weeks.

One of the goals of the forums is to help devise ways for novice teachers to spend up to a full school year in classrooms with quality mentors before they are on their own.

The issue is part of Louisiana’s push to improve student achievement by improving teacher quality, which is considered crucial to student success.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Teachers and a teacher for 38 years, said that when she began her first job, the principal gave her a key.

“He said ‘That is your classroom, go forth and teach,’ ” Meaux told the group.

Debbie Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals and a former teacher herself, said education is one of the few professions that allow newcomers to start work with little oversight.

Schum said that, of her three children, one is a nurse who had a “nurse buddy” as she started work.

She said her son, a policeman, spent three months riding with a partner learning the ropes.

The third child is a teacher.

Partnerships between school districts and colleges and other groups is one of the options being explored to improve teacher training.

West Feliciana Parish Superintendent Hollis Milton talked about his school system’s partnership with LSU to improve teacher preparation through a “Believe and Prepare” grant from the state Department of Education, one of seven in the state.

The district is partnered with LSU for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, teacher candidates who learn classroom skills from veteran teacher mentors.

“We want to improve not only the quantity of STEM teachers but the quality,” Milton said.

One of the keys, he said, is to let prospective teachers see a school year from start to finish.

“We have learned a lot from LSU and LSU has learned a lot from us,” Milton said.

Louis Voiron, director of human resources for the Lafourche Parish school system, said his district has teamed with Nicholls State University to fill specific needs, including special education teachers.

Finding ways to lure top-flight students to careers in the classroom is another aim.

“We absolutely need the gifted academic students in our profession,” said Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system.

Schum said, “I talk to principals every day who cannot find teachers to fill positions.”

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.