Student teaching teaches students

Lauren Eckert

She reaches for a tissue for the fifth time in the last five minutes. Her nose is red from constant blowing, her eyelids are swollen and heavy and eyes are glassy. Despite the nasty cold that ravages her sinuses and leaves her in a fog, she grabs another spelling test and starts going through the words, red pen in hand. She puts a small check mark next to the word correctly, which was ironically spelled incorrectly.

Megan Kirkhart, a student teacher at Farley Elementary in Topeka,  knows she can’t let a runny nose stop her from grading, planning and keeping up with her own class assignments. She battles her nine-hour work day with coffee in the morning and a soda in the afternoon. With all the germs she is exposed to in the classroom every day, it is no surprise that some of those germs wandered her direction. But as always, she just keeps on.

Student teaching is a burden that many people take for granted when they consider the teaching profession. While it may seem that it is a simple semester of assisting a teacher, many fail to understand that student teaching is an opportunity that education majors use to gain experience in the classroom and teach and plan their own units and lessons without guidance for the first time. But there’s a catch.

While this opportunity is undoubtedly beneficial for new teachers, it is also an expensive experience that comes with a lot of extra baggage.

Education students must file a student teaching application during the semester prior to when they wish to start student teaching.

The Washburn department of education requires that all students applying have a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or above and a teaching specialty grade point average of 2.75 or higher. Students must also be approved by the Department of Education before they may begin the student teaching experience.

The cost of tuition is $207 per credit hour at Washburn University for the 2010-2011 school year. Take this cost times 15, and that is how much each student pays in tuition in order to student teach. Now consider that each student is committing to working approximately 40 hours a week on site, and an additional seven to eight hours a week grading and planning for the upcoming week.

This makes working an outside job nearly impossible, and something that is strongly discouraged by Washburn’s department of education.

In addition to this expense and the time commitment, student teachers are also required to attend nine seminar sessions on campus to discuss class requirements, teaching and management strategies and to meet with university supervisors to discuss individual questions and assess how the semester is progressing.

They also attend two behavior management classes,  and turn in several lengthy assignments, including a 25-page Washburn University Performance Assessment, assemble a detailed, two-week unit plan, turn in a 10-minute DVD presentation showing classroom instruction, a diversity research paper, compose daily journal entries and more.

“It takes a lot of patience and organization and time management to be a successful student teacher,” said Kirkhart. “Luckily, a lot of these skills I gained through my previous education classes at Washburn, and I felt as prepared as I think I could be going in to this semester of student teaching.”

Mary Cottrell, a current student teacher at Langston Hughes Elementary in Lawrence also believes that the education curriculum at Washburn has been beneficial to her student teaching experience.

“Student teaching so far has been such a wonderful experience and I know that compared to some of the other universities, Washburn has done a great job of preparing us for taking over a classroom,” said Cottrell.

But prepared or not, there is no doubt that the transition to student teaching is trying for these future teachers.  Student teachers go from working part-time jobs and taking regular courses to working full time and managing more assignments and responsibility than they have had to face before.

And many students agree that it is this adjustment that is the most difficult to manage when transitioning from student to student teacher.

“My least favorite part of student teaching was the physical adjusting at the beginning,” said Cottrell.  “They never tell you how you will spend every moment planning and how exhausted you are at the end of the day. I wish I was less stressed but this is a small price to pay and I know it will not always be like this, especially once I get past my first few years of teaching.”

Even students who have not yet embarked on their student teaching adventures are nervous about what the future brings.

Student Megan Peraita will begin student teaching during the spring semester and is excited, yet anxious to get the experience under her belt.

“Do I feel like I’m 100 percent prepared to student teach? Yes and no. I have had some amazing professors at Washburn that have guided me and been a huge help in preparing me, but no one can fully prepare you to student teach,” said Peraita. “Throughout the education program you take a few classes where you observe in a classroom for 20 to 30 hours, but I know that experience will be completely different from actually teaching.”

While it is a lot of time and even more work, most student teachers are quick to admit that it is a useful and overall enjoyable experience.

“I love being with the kids,” said Kirkhart. “They make the experience what it is and make it fun, so even though it’s a lot of work, this is my passion.  This is what I love. I wouldn’t change it.”

Cottrell shares similar sentiments.

“The students are precious, even if they drive me nuts sometimes,” said Cottrell. “They are so intelligent and full of life. It’s so fun to be around them.”

It is this love and passion for children and learning that prevail at the end of the day, making all the stress and extra work worthwhile.

“I admire the satisfaction teachers must feel every single day when they teach their students and change their lives,” said Peraita. “Student teaching will be a learning experience for sure and I am thrilled.”