Student teachers enhance learning in classes this year

December 4, 2015

When faced with the idea of being taught by a student not much older than them, many have a predetermined idea on student teachers. Still in college, inexperienced and nervous, some students believe that having a student teacher could be more harmful than helpful. The new round of student teachers introduced to this semesters classrooms have more than disprove the harmful notion. Although some may fumble at first, student teachers can enhance the classroom and learning experiences for those who are willing to except them.

When first thinking of student teachers, many picture someone they do not take seriously, someone who does not know what they are doing, and someone who is disrupting the classroom. Student teacher Jena Mielke is working with history teacher Gerard Coury, Henry Fitzpatrick is working with history teacher Michael Lennon and Jesse Hoekstra is working with English teacher Corey Quick. They all have changed this notion for their students and their collaborating teachers.

Mielke admits that when she began she was more than nervous. Being not much older than the seniors she teaches she said, “My first fear was that I’m so young; I’m not going to have any respect, there will be tension.” Now, with only 3 weeks left before she no longer is under Coury and returns to college, she feels quite different, “I think students have been really respectful and I’ve built strong relationships.”

Although Mielke’s experience has been successful, she wasn’t always sure. “I honestly came into student teaching not sure if I wanted to be a teacher.” Quick can attest to this, stating that nearly half of new teachers will quit their position within the first 5 years of their career. “I loved my content area, social studies education, so I loved history. I didn’t necessarily love my education classes, but now that I’ve been student teaching love coming to work and getting to interact with students,” said Mielke.

Working with high schoolers can be difficult, at this level students are not as excited about education as they used to be. Some might struggle with the change of tone. Hoekstra, in his second week at the high school, after completing nine weeks at a middle schools, said, “They don’t have as much energy as the 8th graders,” although this is true he said, “It leaves a lot more room for direct conversation.”

Interacting with students can be a challenge, but experience is what student teachers crave the most. Mielke said, “Part of it is having humility and when they ask a hard question and I don’t know the answer, it’s being honest and saying ‘hey guys I don’t know that one, lets look it up together’ and not trying to fake it.”

When a student teacher enters the class room they are faced with many challenges. Most have to juggle lesson plans for the classroom, the expectations of the teacher themselves, work from their college classes, and some even have jobs on the weekends. Mielke says one thing shes realized about teaching is that the work never really ends.

“There’s always stuff to be doing and you’re never done. You never feel like you can just say ‘alright, finished it all, I can go to bed’ it’s more ‘this is the most I can do tonight, I have to call it quits and go to bed’,” said Mielke.

Although there is a lot of work that needs time dedicated to it, the idea of the student teacher is that they aren’t alone. Leading teacher Quick said, “A long time ago, from a historical perspective, the model was almost like Mr. Hoekstra would show up and I would just vanish. Just throw them in and no one would see me for the next 9 or 18 weeks. I would just disappear.” As teachers evolve so do the teaching styles. Now, Quick said, “We’re moving more and more towards a model of cooperative teaching, toward a model like interns almost.”

This new model of teaching helps to dissolve the idea that student teachers are harmful. Fitzpatrick was introduced to Lennon’s classroom under the same model. Lennon said, “I’m comfortable saying to students ‘go ask Mr. Fitzpatrick,’ he has got control.”

Students recognize┬áthe new teaching format being practiced. Junior, Bennett Hall has Quick and Hoekstra as teachers and he said, “He really knows what he’s doing and that transfers into the lesson,” he said “He’s a goof ball but a great guy.” Similarly, junior Logan Patzner says, “I’ve had student teachers before and I didn’t like it, it was distracting. But this year is different and a lot smoother.”

A teacher’s ability to connect with students is necessary to the learning environment. Quick said, “It doesn’t matter how well you know your subject matter if you can’t interact with students then you’re not going to be an effective teacher.” This model of teaching allows the student teachers to take on their own lesson plans and make their own style of teaching while making relationships and getting comfortable with students. Patzner said Fitzpatrick, “Is very calm and handles any situation with ease.”

I’ve had student teachers before and I didn’t like it, it was distracting. But this year is different and a lot smoother.”

— Jena Mielke

Teachers also recognize how much can be gained from student teachers. Lennon said, “I’ll take a student teacher about every other year because I’ll take a couple of the things he’s showing me and I’ll try to meld them into my classes over the next year. By the time I learn those and it’s almost without problem, it’s time for me to learn something new.” Lennon added, “It’s a trade, you give up class time and he’ll hopefully make me better and every bit of class time then he gets more experience.”

As the first quarter ends and many of the student teachers will be leaving Mielke said, “One of the biggest things I learned is classroom management and how to get students involved and have the classroom environment set up for success.” Similarly, Hoekstra said, “It’s an invaluable thing to have this time because otherwise there would be no other way to practice teaching.” Quick added, “every teacher is a new teacher at some point.”

This year many notions of harmful student teachers have been invalidated. With new models of teaching, student teachers are now more comfortable in the classroom and are able to connect with students better than before, this goes hand in hand with student experience and has proven to be beneficial.

Quick sums it up when he said, “It lets the students become the teachers of the teacher that will one day teach the students.” In other words, when a student teacher is a part of the classroom everyone benefits, the teacher, the teacher in training, and the students.

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