Teaching Future Teachers:
Murray State University's Innovative Approach—Using CHAMPs to Prepare Teachers for the Classroom

Discipline in schools is a problem. It seems that almost every week we read an article in the paper or hear an item on the radio or TV about a violent act committed in a school somewhere in the country. In fact, according to a poll conducted by Gallop and Phi Delta Kappa, the public perceives the lack of discipline to be the third largest issue faced by schools today, preceded only by financial concerns and overcrowding.

In related research, the National Center for Educational Statistics finds that 44 percent of teachers who leave their profession cite "problematic student behavior" as a source of dissatisfaction. As many as 50 percent of new teachers quit within five years of beginning their careers, and many cite disruptive students as a contributing factor in their decision to leave.

Why is this happening? Why are teachers struggling to manage the behaviors of their students?

Perhaps a partial answer lies in the training they receive in their preparatory courses. A cursory web analysis of the courses offered by the top ten colleges of education (as listed in US News & World Reports) demonstrates the lack of training that goes into preparing teachers to manage a classroom. Many institutions do not even offer such a course and those that do focus on theory and research without providing any useable tools.

Murray State University in Kentucky hopes to remedy this situation.

This past January, Murray State launched an innovative new initiative for students enrolled in their education courses. The new initiative integrates CHAMPs, Safe & Civil Schools' proactive, positive approach to classroom management, into the undergraduate teacher education curriculum. With this new initiative in place, Murray State will soon graduate new teachers who have the skills required to effectively manage a classroom.

It all started when faculty at the College of Education (COE) received evaluations from their students indicating that they wanted more exposure to classroom management techniques and ideas in their undergraduate curriculum. At the same time, educators from surrounding areas were saying that, while graduates of Murray State were exceptionally prepared, they could, as beginning teachers, benefit from more classroom management training. An initiative is born…

Acting on this two-pronged stimulus, faculty decided to add a classroom management component to their education courses, but as they researched the idea, they realized that adding an isolated course or two would be just that—isolated and disconnected. What they needed was a program that they could embed in their four-year curriculum, culminating in the student teaching experience.

The committee decided to use CHAMPs for several reasons. It is a comprehensive program based on sound and accepted principles of classroom management. The materials are adaptable and could easily be assimilated into the undergraduate program. Finally, the program is well known in Kentucky, having been a part of a statewide initiative in the early 1990ís. Three of the faculty were familiar with CHAMPs and offered to participate in the initial planning for the Murray State initiative and to train COE faculty.

So they set to work. An ad hoc committee examined the materials and paired CHAMPs modules with COE courses having content that would most appropriately introduce, complement, or extend classroom management concepts. They made a deliberate effort to insure that the program would be embedded throughout the four years by selecting target classes to introduce the concepts with subsequent classes reviewing and extending them.

The CHAMPs program is founded on the premise that most children want to behave appropriately and will choose to do so—if they are directly and explicitly taught appropriate behaviors. The program has been used with great success in a variety of classrooms across the country. But, this is the first time that the practical tools and strategies in this program have been formally offered to prospective teachers in a preparatory setting.

That students will welcome such an innovation is evident in remarks made by Dr. Pam Matlock, coordinator of Murray State University's Paducah campus. Commenting on the reactions of her students, she says, "My students are hungry for training in classroom management. This is the aspect of teaching that frightens student teachers the most."

Incorporating CHAMPs into their education curriculum will go a long way toward alleviating these fears. The in-depth, hands-on comprehensive CHAMPs program allows Murray State students to acquire practical, research-based techniques and procedures to, first, think about how they want to structure a classroom, and then to create a workable plan that reinforces that structure in a proactive, positive, and instructional way. At graduation, new teachers will know how to design proactive and positive classroom management plans to fit a variety of settings—plans that will explicitly teach their future students how to behave respectfully and responsibly.

Dr. Russ Wall, Dean of the College of Education is pleased with results so far, "Since the inception of this approach, I have received many positive comments from area school officials praising the efforts of the College of Education in providing this embedded training."

By incorporating research-based classroom management procedures and techniques into their four-year teacher preparatory courses, Murray State will take the lead in training the country's future teachers, ensuring that its education majors will graduate with needed classroom management skills.

For more information about Murray State's innovative Education program, visit their website at www.murraystate.edu/coe/.