Teachers give "A" to student teaching
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale ‘85
Stephanie Boer sits with a small group of second graders reviewing reading skills. Little hands shoot up in the air in answer to Boer's question, which she asks in Spanish. The blonde-headed girl rattles off an answer, also in Spanish. "Muy bien," Boer answers and continues reading.
Boer, a senior education major, is not a teacher--not yet anyway. But she's learning how to be one in her student-teaching role at Academia De Espanol, a Spanish immersion school held at Eastern Elementary School in Grand Rapids. She, of course, is not unique. More than 200 Calvin students a year get to test their chosen profession before ever signing a contract.
Student teaching has been around as long as teaching has been a field of study at Calvin College.
In 1900 Synod decided to expand the scope of Calvin from strictly a theological school by modifying the curriculum to appeal to students other than pre-seminarians. This included a program in the field of teacher education. That same year the yearbook explained that "arrangements have been made with some schools in the city where students who are preparing for teaching may gain some experience in practical schoolwork under the supervision of competent teachers."
An agreement was struck with nearby Oakdale Christian to serve as the "training school" for Calvin students.
"The main reason for student teaching all along was to show that theory does have some practical applications," said LeRoy Stegink, chair of the education department. "It's pretty easy to tell who has the theory down and who doesn't because things will really bomb in the classroom if they don't have the theory down straight."
Student teaching was Steve Brinks' best opportunity for learning. Now a teacher at Academia De Espanol, Brinks student taught last year in the same class Boer is in now.
"Getting a chance to apply the theoretical is really a good way to learn," he said "It was a very positive experience for me."
"There's a lot more to teaching than you realize," added Boer, a Denver native. "You have to be thinking about several things at one time."
So the student-teaching experience is an initiation into all of the responsibilities of teaching. "You really have to put it into practice to know what works and what doesn't," said Janelle Steenbergen VanArragon ‘96. "The key word is flexibility, which is not in my personality at all. I like to follow the plan exactly, but I learned to be flexible and that was my lifesaver."
All former student teachers remember anxious moments when a lesson planned for 30 minutes took only five or a supposed two minutes of instruction took 45.
"That's when you really have to think on your feet," said VanArragon.
Despite the often tense moments of taking over the class for the first time, the experience works in preparing students to become teachers.
Survey comments from 1994-95 student teachers included: "I feel that I developed a sense of what it would be like to be a teacher. I saw the work involved and the responsibilities that go with this career." "I feel so much more prepared. I am ready to teach."
Many alumni remember the transition from student to teacher well. It's one of the reasons alumni often volunteer as cooperating teachers.
"I know that I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the support and encouragement of other teachers," said JoAnn VanVugt ‘67, who has been at Jenison Christian in Michigan for 30 years.
VanVugt has had one or more students teachers during about 25 years of her time there.
"I enjoy watching them learn and grow," she said. "When you teach little children you don't get to see the end of their education. When you oversee student teachers, you get to see them as they are ready to go out into the work field. It's a whole different kind of gratification."
While VanVugt admits there is some additional work to having a student teacher, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
"It's really a good benefit for the kids," said VanVugt. "It frees me up to help some of the kids with special needs in the classroom. It also really keeps me on my toes. Student teachers ask a lot of questions about why I do certain things and it makes me really think about what I'm doing."
Often times the student teacher can bring a new talent to the classroom. "I have had music majors and art majors and even men with a lot of interest in sports that has really benefitted the students in my class," she said. "I've also found them to be really with it technologically and they aren't afraid to try things on the computer and overhead and VCR. In fact, that's what forced me to finally learn the computer--I had all of these student teachers trying new things on it."
While not permitted to have a student teacher in the classroom yet (you have to have three years of teaching experience first), Brinks will take them when able.
"It is an invaluable experience for students that want to be teachers," he said. "As a teacher who is concerned about students, it is my responsibility to have student teachers in the classroom. If we want to have good teachers in our profession, we have to help provide them with the best possible experience." A commitment to students is a second reason to welcome student teachers into the classroom, said Winona Dyk ‘92, Boer's cooperating teacher at Academia De Espanol.
"Kids need a lot of attention, especially in an inner-city school," she said. "When you have two people you can give double the attention and meet the kids' needs a lot better."
Since Dyk teaches in a split second/third grade classroom, there are many different things happening at once. "It's nice to have someone else to help out. The students are that much more aware that they are accountable to someone."
In addition, student teachers often come in with new techniques, ideas and great enthusiasm. "Our student teacher has brought new life to our classroom. Her energy and enthusiasm have inspired both the students and me," wrote one cooperating teacher on a student evaluation. VanVugt agreed wholeheartedly. "Student teachers are very excited about getting into the education field. They are so eager to get out there and experience it first hand. That enthusiasm spills over to me and to the students. All around that is something that is good for education."