Education: Make-It-Or-Break-It

Every degree program has its breaking point. For Biology majors, Organic Chemistry makes or breaks it. For Music majors, the multiple musical theory classes tend to separate the wheat from the chaff. English majors dread the analysis classes.

Education majors, however, do not have their make-it-or-break-it moment until student teaching. By that point in the game, however, it is a little late to change the course. Many courses in the Education Department require classroom observation hours, hours spent watching and analyzing the decisions and actions of teachers in real life, real classroom situations.

More than any of the courses, these observation hours are the most important hours spent in preparation for actual teaching. But what can be more intimidating then entering another teacher’s classroom to critique them? What do those teachers expect?

Misty Duke, Language Arts teacher at Clinton Junior High School, wants education students in her classroom to take initiative. Whether they are an observer or a student teacher, she wants students that are engaged and involved in what is happening in the classroom.

Duke, who has been teaching for 14 years, has had over 10 different education students in her classroom through the years. She has had some, who have caused issues, and others, who have been so vital to her classroom that she still knows their name.

“Professionalism,” she said. “Professionalism in dress and in conduct around students is essential in the classroom.” That first impression shows her exactly what to expect from the student for the rest of the semester.

Jill Penick, also a Language Arts teacher at Clinton Junior High School, agrees. “Professional dress, initiative, someone who doesn’t sit back and wait for you to tell them everything. Someone that asks questions, shows curiosity in why I am doing certain things.”

Penick has been teaching for five years and has had three observers in her classroom. For Penick, however, the purpose of the being in the classroom is to see what being a teacher is really like, “for real.”

A student does not see the reality of the profession in the college classroom as a student. Only with real students in real situations can the education student understand.

This reality of the classroom is why Donna Robbins, first grade teacher at Clinton Park Elementary School, tries to provide one-on-one time with observers in her classroom. “I put them one-on-one with a student because it gives them experience actually dealing with a child, helps them solidify this (teaching) is what I’m called to do.”

Robbins has been teaching for 25 years and has had over 15 observers in her classroom. She echoes the remarks of other teachers in what she desires from student observers: take initiative, take notes, ask questions, not just the ones on the sheet.

The idea of taking initiative in another teacher’s classroom is daunting. However, teachers want to see and know that education students are in the classroom for the right reason: to experience real life teaching.

Robbins encourages education students to get as much experience as possible with as many age groups as possible. Observation hours are perfect for finding out what age group makes the education student passionate about teaching. And when one is passionate, the teacher becomes real.

For Penick, being real is what teaching is about. “Students are looking for someone who is real. They aren’t looking for the perfect person who knows it all and has it all together. They are looking for a real person.”

– Alan Wesley Kinsey, Contributing Writer

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