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My First Peek from the Other Side of the Desk: Perspectives of Beginning Teacher Education Students

Edited by Kathleen Watson

Teacher Education students at Capital University have the opportunity to begin field placements very early in their journey to become a teacher. The first field experience allows students to observe seasoned teachers within the large school districts throughout Columbus, Ohio for a six-week period. For most of them, this is students' first time experiencing a K-12 classroom through a teacher's lens rather than through a student's or parent's. In My First Peek from the Other Side of the Desk, student's reflect on what they saw, heard, felt, and learned during this experience.

Read on to get a peek at the other side of the desk... this time, from the perspective of a student teacher!

I suspect these little nuggets are what keep the teachers working hard each day. I can’t wait to find out.

New Perspective

By Kristin Alcox

Someone once told me that to the extent possible, each person should be able to see Disney World (or, insert any magical amusement park) through the eyes of a child, through the eyes of an adult and as an adult with children. The reason is the new perspective you gain at each stage. I am slowly working my way through a similar experience with education. I have been (and hopefully always will be) a student. I am a parent with an 11 and 13-year-old and I am working toward a post-degree teaching license with the goal of serving as an educator myself.

It’s been called a mid-life crisis, but I don’t look at it that way. That is, to start a second career in education in your forties (I say that proudly, by the way). It’s been a long-time dream to be a teacher even though I had a great public relations career for many years. I didn’t see the signs at the time, but much of client work dealt with children’s initiatives and was pushing me closer to education. I was fortunate to stay at home while my children were little, but since I am not one to sit still for long, I quickly took on every PTO role I could find. If that meant raising money for flexible seating or books, I was on it. If that meant supporting long teaching days with extra meals, I cooked. It satisfied me for a bit, but there was something still nagging at me that I had not yet discovered. I still wanted to do more - so a little over a year ago I went back to school.

As part of the training, my peers and I were fortunate to participate in an extended six-week classroom observation. For my experience “on the other side of the desk,” I was placed in both an affluent suburban middle school and a low-income, urban middle school. Here, I got to see first-hand all the elements of education we discuss in class without the responsibility of teaching. This was my new perspective. It’s hard to put into words how valuable it was to be in these two vastly different classroom settings. And while there may have been much in the way of differences among these two schools and their students, surprisingly, there was much more in common than I expected. In fact, these shared themes have left me with several new perspectives to focus on for my own future growth and education. I learned what I still need to learn.

Each day in the classroom brought students with a myriad of struggles – some social (like dating and friendships) some physical (like hunger and fatigue) and still others cognitive (skill and mental health issues). Through it all, I witnessed great examples of differentiation from my cooperating teachers that allowed students to work on similar activities with varying skill levels. I saw workstations and collaborative games and activities carefully planned in an attempt to reach diverse interests and ability levels in an attempt to make the content mean something and make the students successful (DePorter, Reardon, and Singer-Nourie, 1999, p 88). But, I learned that these distractions are real to the students and I discovered school is so much more than linear equations and figurative language. How can educators improve our ability to get to know each student so that we can overcome any barriers to learning? How can we make the time for this important task? It will be important to get to know them as individuals and to build up their confidence. Admittedly, it was sometimes hard during the observation to take off the “mom” hat and to put on the “teacher” hat when students looked like they needed a hug or clean clothes. Or a pencil…

Yes, I learned there doesn’t seem to be a middle school student on the planet that can remember to bring a pencil to class! (Let me pause while I write pencils on the grocery list for my children!). I know that forgetfulness and disorganization is a hallmark trait of all young adolescents (Brown and Knowles, 2014, p 28), but what differed was what I noticed they did about it. Some students problem solved and found another pencil, but others hoped it meant they didn’t have to do the assignment. I learned that these kids are motivated differently. How as an educator can I better understand the intrinsic motivation in some of these students if they don’t have it, how can I help motivate the others?

Motivating students in today’s world is tough. Students want instant gratification such as “likes” on social media and a fast-loading app. Good things take time. I witnessed my cooperating teachers work hard to develop lessons that built through multi-tiered levels of Bloom's Taxonomy that help students work through increasing levels of complexity for a given lesson. They plan and work hard to make sure they can help kids move through Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development whereby the teachers decrease their involvement in a task as the students increase their skill and understanding. I’ve seen some GREAT examples of these! But sometimes the kids just want the answer and want to be done. How can we reach them? How can I make them see the relevance of the lesson to their lives?

It’s not all trying. Like the magical amusement park reference, I also learned how fun it is when a student “gets it” or wants to share writing with you. Their excitement can be infectious. In my last week of observation, one of my students came running up to me for a hug because she made the honor roll. I won’t forget that. And, I suspect these little nuggets are what keep the teachers working hard each day. I can’t wait to find out.

The Other Side of the Train Tracks

By Cara Dovell

Growing up in a wealthy school district in the suburbs, I was ignorant to how other school systems operated and the challenges they may face. I am not proud to admit, but I was shocked to learn that every high school does not have its own pool. So, when I was placed in a failing, inner city school to observe a 6th grade math class for the next 8 weeks, undeniably, I was out of my element. Walking into the school for the first time, I was overheated. Not because I was nervous, but because the school did not have air conditioning and my classroom was on the third floor. After the first day of observing, the students would begin to ask me questions related to the homework or notes. I was amazed at how these students, who had just met me, were so comfortable seeking my help. I started to enjoy my time in this classroom, but it did not feel like ‘real’ school. I was helping the students get their work done, but they would forget how to do it a mere 20 minutes later. I would ask them if they study outside of school and they would just laugh. Academics did not seem to be a part of these students’ lives, inside or outside of school. As the weeks went on, I began to notice a pattern, most students would not turn their homework in. As a student, I always turn my homework in, especially on time, so this frustrated me. From a young age, it was instilled in me by my parents and my teachers to have my work completed in a timely manner. Most of the students did not seem to have the same work ethic rooted in them like I did.

This frustration sparked an internal debate. I began to think about my future as an educator. Since enrolling in college, I have wanted to teach at my alma mater. The students have the foundation at home to be able to push their learning. As a philomath, a lover of learning, I want to challenge my students to think in ways they have never done before. I am unable to do this if only 3 out of my 25 students turn in their homework. As an educator, I care about my students and their learning, but, there is only so much I can do at school. If parents or guardians are not reminding students to do work or challenging them to try their best in school, it is hard for me to see them struggling. I would try and help all of them, but there is only one of me. I know I would be able to overcome this, but ultimately, I think it would take a toll on my emotions. No matter where I end up, I know I would display a “loving, compassionate attitude towards the children in [my] classroom” because it will “create a joyful community” (Church). I am a firm believer that “classroom relationships build community [and] the community becomes a vital force in learning” (Wolk). Regardless of the school’s economic status, learning can only take place once the community is established. Although I love teaching, my driving force of becoming a teacher was to make relationships with my students, in order to allow them to reach their fullest potentials, inside and outside of the classroom.This experience was a grueling one, but after getting Strep Throat and Hand-Foot-and-Mouth, nothing can stop me from pursuing my career.