by Mandy Pennington

During their final semester in the Education Department, Greenville College students are sent out to student teach in area schools. The experience, while all-consuming and sometimes stressful, is chock-full of learning moments and real-life experience. GC students enjoy getting to know their kids, learning the ins-and-outs of teaching with another teacher by their side, and getting a taste of what their future could be like.

Education majors are placed in a variety of places and types of classrooms. Mary Deterding, a special education major, taught at Sorento Elementary School in a fifth through eighth-grade special education classroom, and then moved to Brownstown High School to teach math and English for a ninth through twelfth-grade special education class. Deterding loved her teaching experiences. “It is a look into what I will be doing for the future, and it was really reassuring,” she said. “At first I was really anxious about trying to fit in and being able to help the students. But after I was there for a few days, and met the students, it became like second nature.” Deterding said that her favorite part of the experience was getting to know her students. “The moment students finally understood something that they were struggling with for so long — that moment was such a joy. The excitement that the students felt over little things made me so so excited for my future.”

Mikhaela Romoser also found that to be her favorite part of teaching. “My favorite part was getting to know my students and watch how our growing relationships affected their learning experiences in a positive way,” she said. Romoser majors in early childhood education and elementary education, and taught at Renfro Elementary in Collinsville. She was placed in a kindergarten class for 10 weeks and a third-grade class for five weeks. “I enjoyed finally being able to put what I have learned into practice,” she said. “I never realized how difficult it would be, but I am learning to have grace for myself as I learn how to be a teacher.”

Biology education major Cory Snyder said, “My overall experience was incredible, starting with my cooperating teacher Brock Friese, a former baseball coach at GC. He was pivotal in my extraordinary experience; I learned something new from him every day. I learned new ways to teach kids, manage a classroom, and learn more about deepening my relationship with Christ.” Snyder taught sixth-grade earth science and seventh-grade life science at Greenville Junior High School. “My favorite part of student teaching was twofold. First, I really enjoyed putting three years of hard work and science and education classes to work! Next, I enjoyed getting to teach students how to think critically, and engage with activities in the science classroom, first by knowing them as individual people, learners and members of the Greenville community.”

Special education major Kirsten Freeze taught at Leclaire Elementary in a special ed kindergarten through second-grade classroom, and 8th grade at Lincoln middle school. “I absolutely loved student teaching,” she said. ”I grew so much in my ability as a teacher, but also my confidence.” Student teaching helps GC students learn to become their own teacher, and develop a teaching style outside of what they’ve learned from textbooks. They also have the opportunity to learn under the teachers in their classrooms. “I had a really incredible cooperating teacher,” Freeze said. “I learned so much from working with her.”

Student teaching is a wonderful experience, but also has its struggles. “The hardest part (and my favorite part) about student teaching was when there was no textbook answer for what to do about a particular situation,” Freeze said. “That’s when I really got to use solid teaching practice that went beyond memorized knowledge to problem solve. That’s when I felt most successful as a teacher.” Teaching in these classrooms often pushes students far outside of their comfort zones. Deterding confessed, “I am currently student teaching in a high school, and I’m finding it really hard to teach students that are only two to four years younger than I am. It is difficult to set myself up as an authority and not a peer. However, though it is difficult, I am learning that it is doable and that I just have to persevere.” Romoser discovered that it is easy to judge teachers for things that you haven’t yet experienced. “The most surprising part was realizing how easy it is to do the things you said you would never do. I now understand how so many teachers can get into unhealthy habits — such as yelling — with their students so quickly. I have had to learn how to maintain composure, and that can be extremely difficult.” Snyder found that the most difficult aspect of student teaching was having to think critically all of the time. “I always had to consider how to best challenge and lead each student. This is also my favorite part of teaching, because it goes way past teaching; it goes deeper.”

Greenville College prides itself on its ability to prepare students for life after college, and student teaching is one of the ways it prepares education majors. “Each of my classes and personal talks with my professors prepared me well,” said Romoser. “However, nothing prepares you or teaches you like actually being in a classroom with a group of students. I learned that being a great teacher will not happen automatically, no matter how badly I want to be one. It will just take practice, practice, practice, with one skill at a time.”

Freeze recounted her experience, saying, “There were so many times when I needed to use the skills I’ve been working on the last four years to problem solve and to support students. It was rewarding to finally put that to use. Sometimes I made mistakes, sometimes I was successful; all of it was a learning experience. I definitely felt prepared for student teaching, but I also think teaching is a craft that I will continue to hone as I continue into my career. So yes, I felt prepared, but I also knew I still had plenty to learn.”

Deterding feels that Greenville has shaped her as a teacher and a learner. “The education program here does so well at making the educational experience authentic. There were a few points when I was overwhelmed with trying to balance being both a student and a teacher, but the professors have supported me so much that I never felt alone on the journey.”

Snyder is grateful for the ways that GC has taught him to care for students. “The school teaches relevant, challenging and unique ways to personalize your teaching style, and helps you become a teacher who changes students’ lives,” he explained. “GC has led me on the path to becoming an educator who leads by accepting students for who they are.”

All four students plan to teach after graduation. Deterding plans to work in special education in Illinois for a few years, and then work as a teacher in an orphanage out West. Romoser plans to get her master’s degree eventually, but plans to be a teacher immediately following graduation. Synder begins teaching earth science at Skyridge High School in Utah in the fall of 2017. Freeze will also start teaching in the fall, as a special education teacher in the Cahokia School District. “I am really excited and nervous to have my own classroom and get to know my students,” she said. “This has been my dream for so long, it’s kind of surreal that it will be reality in less than six months. I can’t wait!”

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