Prep work begins early for student teachers
Twenty burns from a hot glue gun.
That’s one thing Rachel Beard has to show for returning to Radford University three weeks before fall semester classes began.
Such is the life of a student teacher.
But there are many other lessons and valuable experiences Beard has gained from her early campus arrival.
A graduate student from Bedford, she is preparing for a teaching career. In May, Beard will earn a master’s degree in early childhood education, which will certify her to teach pre-kindergarten through third grade, as well as early childhood special education.
Beard is part of a student-teacher cohort who cut short their summer breaks and returned to campus weeks ahead of the university’s class schedule to prepare for their field experiences in elementary schools in the region.
As soon as they arrived, they met with Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Carol Bland and then ventured out separately to meet their cooperating teachers (CT), attend meetings, help prepare classrooms and meet with students and their parents, all before school began in early August.
“I didn’t expect so much to go into those early days,” said Beard, who wants to be a kindergarten teacher but is student teaching now in a third-grade classroom. “I thought it was just going to be the cooperating teacher and me in the classroom. But we had to go to meetings and workshops. It was a lot of work, and I’ve learned a lot from the experience.”
Beard, who is a 2018-19 recipient of the Hattie M. Strong Foundation Scholarship for Radford University student teachers, arrived at her elementary school the same day as her CT, a necessity for getting the total experience of being an educator. Her time there included arranging and organizing the classroom.
That’s when the hot glue gun came into play.
“We walked in and everything was pushed into a corner,” Beard recalled. “There was nothing on the walls. It was just me and my CT, and we said, ‘Let’s get started!’”
Bland believes “it is so important for our students to be fully engaged in setting up the classroom, attending faculty meetings, participating in professional development, preparing for open house, meeting families and starting the school year with their students,” she said.
Bland is one of several Radford University education faculty members who bring their students back to campus early.
“This is the only time in their professional careers that they will start the school year with a safety net,” Bland said. “Beginning the school year with their cooperating teachers prepares our students for leading their own classrooms in ways no other teacher education course can accomplish.”
The experience of starting early with their CTs is valuable to the Radford student teachers as they look one year ahead to when they likely will be employed as teachers and have their own classrooms.
“Coming back to school early has be helpful because when I think ahead to my first year of teaching and about the possibility of not knowing what to do, that really scares me,” said Kayleigh Cummins of Elk Creek, who is student teaching in a fourth grade class. “But after getting these experiences, I think ‘Oh, I can do that. I can set up a classroom. I can start lesson planning.’”
Confidence comes through preparations, which include writing extensive lesson plans.
“We have to plan out every word we say,” said Becca Peters of Floyd. “It’s really lengthy and detailed.”
Scripting each word is time consuming and may seem daunting, but Bland said it helps the student teachers “be as prepared as they can possibly be.”
“It lets them think through every step of the lesson, not only what they plan to say but what questions they should anticipate from their students and how they expect the students to answer the teachers’ questions,” Bland said. “It helps them think through possibilities before something actually happens.”
It builds confidence, Peters said. “A year ago, I was not nearly as confident as I am now. Now, I can stand in front of a class and believe in myself that I can actually do this.”
Nicole Freyberger agrees. “Everything we do in this program is well thought out, and I think that’s what gives everyone the confidence to go up there in front of a class and teach and to be prepared and know what you’re teaching,” the senior from Ashburn said.
Getting started early, when everything in the classroom was pushed into a corner a there’s much work to be done, has given the student educators the self-assurance needed to take control their classrooms.
“I feel like I’m in charge of the class,” said Tabitha Nelson, a graduate student from Harrisonburg, who is teaching a third grade class. “Radford has prepared me in so many ways. I already feel like a teacher, an actual teacher.”