February 28, 2012
Laurren Edwards stood in front of the high school sophomores and uttered the words that brought some groaning and shuffling for paper.
"We have a quiz over chapter 12," she said.
The students at Terre Haute North Vigo High School good naturedly tried to negotiate the type of questions before quieting to answer Edwards' quiz about John Knowles "A Separate Peace."
Though in the middle of her student teaching, Edwards, a senior English education major from Paris, Ill., credits Indiana State University's early field experience with her feeling of ease in the classroom.
"There's no way I could have been as successful in my student teaching as I am now had I not had my early field experiences," she said.
In preparing future teachers for middle and high school classrooms, Indiana State University transforms its students through a unique building block of classroom experiences that culminates in an immersion semester prior to student teaching. In that immersion semester, ISU students spend at least five weeks in Vigo County School Corporation high school classrooms observing, assisting and teaching alongside veteran teachers from bell-to-bell.
"It's real instruction in real classrooms," said Sue Kiger, Bayh College of Education's chair of curriculum, instruction and media technology department. "They teach and participate in multiple capacities in the classroom and school with the host teacher there the whole time. They are overseeing, helping with group work, doing hall duty with the teacher but, most importantly, they are judging every instructional strategy and interaction by the effect on student learning. They understand the measure of their effectiveness as teachers is student achievement."
"They bring new ideas and energy and excitement and anticipation along with them and our current teaching staff can provide them with the guidance and support necessary to be able to be successful in the classroom," said Stacy Mason, principal at North High School.
That time observing and working alongside veteran teachers aids the fledgling ones.
"Being first-year teachers and being young, we don't know exactly how we want to teach. We don't know styles that we can incorporate into the classroom," Edwards said.
New teachers can have difficulty in handling discipline issues. The immersive experiences provide time for the future teachers to learn how to work through management issues under the guidance of the host teacher. Kiger said such learning is important because about 40 percent of teachers who leave the profession in the first five years do so due to discipline issues.
"You do not know a discipline issue until you see it in the classroom," Edwards said. "Being in the middle school and high school before I came here really helped me figure out good ways to interact with the kids, just to keep them in line without freaking out."
Initially, Zach Thompson was hesitant about the immersion semester.
"I just went into it with an open mind and I felt like ISU had prepared me enough to dive in those first couple of weeks," said the senior social studies education major from Dallas, Ore. "I would say that the number one thing that helped me was just getting in there and interacting with the kids and seeing how the school ran on a day-to-day basis."
Jennifer Deal, an English teacher at North High School who hosts ISU students, sees the real world experience affect the college students.
"They come in with this ideal of a perfect classroom and how all of their kids are going to behave and they're all going to do their homework," she said. "And even after a few weeks of teaching, they realize that's not the case. They have to adapt and change."
Within the classrooms and halls at North High School, Mason said ISU's students are exposed to a variety of socio-economic status as well as classroom abilities.
"If they get a job in a small rural community, they are going to see students similar to what they have seen in this building and if they go to downtown Indianapolis, they are going to see students like they have seen in this building," she said. "We can tailor experiences for them in that way."
David Utterback, chair of the Terre Haute North social students department, said the field experiences prior to student teaching allow Indiana State students to decide if a teaching career is for them as well as allowing them to try different teaching techniques and to learn professionalism in the classroom.
"I think our profession has changed," he said. "I think we're judged way more heavily by the public. We're held more accountable than we used to be. I think if we want to be considered professional then we need to consider this as a profession, not a job."
Such an opportunity to live the professionalism of an educator makes Tara Knopp feel prepared for her future.
"I feel ready," said the senior Spanish education major from Dayton, Ohio. "In my early field experience, I really soared and I loved it...It helped me be more confident in teaching all of the subjects of Spanish that I teach."
She's also learned that ISU's approach is unique in educating the future teachers.
"I had more early field experience than any of my friends from other universities and it really gave me an advancement in my student teaching," she said. "I knew what to expect. I wasn't walking in without any information. I wasn't walking in without any preparation."
That preparation through experience confirmed for each of the students that they wanted to be teachers.
"It's a job. It's a year," Thompson said of the experience. "These early experiences and the student teaching, it weeds people out. If you aren't going to be able to do teaching or be a teacher then this experience will be there to find out what you want to do. If you want to continue with teaching, then you just keep pushing forward."
Kiger said principals and veteran teachers have reported that the preparation pays off.
"They have confidence that they can do the job before student teaching," she said. "What we're hearing from colleagues is they are so much better prepared and they can handle the classes."
That preparation has also instilled in them a passion for teaching.
"It really changes your heart and it strengthens that resolve that you want to be a teacher," Edwards said. "It's really helped me move from just ‘I'm going to be a teacher' to ‘How am I going to be an excellent teacher?'...It has helped me figure out ways to be the best teacher I can be, not just a good teacher, the best teacher, which is what the kids need."
Laurren Edwards assists sophomore at North High School. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Tara Knopp teaches a Spanish class at North High School. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Zach Thompson leads discussion during at social studies class at North High School. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Contact: Sue Kiger, Indiana State University, chair of curriculum, instruction and media technology department, at 812-237-2956 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or email@example.com
In preparing future teachers for middle and high school classrooms, Indiana State University transforms its students through a unique building block of classroom experiences that culminates in an immersion semester prior to student teaching.