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Teaching to learn

Photo: Connor McCourtney

By Trygve Jensen and Kristen Smith

Drake University is one of the premier schools of education in the Midwest.

One of the greatest aspects of the school is the student teaching process. It is an important aspect of classroom experience to be able to see what truly happens in a classroom before students commit to their career.

“The principal at a local middle school used to tell me he thought his best teachers came from UNI. Recently though, he’s been hiring all Drake grads,” said Tom Drake, Drake’s clinical assistant professor and director of student teaching.

He believes the experience students gain in the classroom is vital to their education and ability to some day handle their own class.

“Drake (University) tries to teach students how to handle certain situations they may come across before their practicum even starts,” Drake said.

Although students are prepared, there are some situations that cannot be anticipated. Just like any elementary, junior high or high school teacher, student teachers will come across students with unique personalities.

“I had a kid in my class that was completely normal until Miley Cyrus came to Des Moines,” said Jenn Field, a junior secondary education major. “He went to the concert and decided he wanted to be just like her.”

She said the 14-year-old male student began to grow his hair out, wear girls clothing and even wear makeup.

“I didn’t even know what to say to him,” she said.

Billy Battistone, a senior secondary education and history double major is student teaching at Dowling Catholic High School. He said getting to know each individual student is one of the most rewarding parts about student teaching.

“Working with the students and getting to experiment as a teacher and trying different lessons to see which ones they respond to is fun,” Battistone said. “Really seeing how they learn and seeing them succeed as a teacher, that’s why you do it; you don’t choose to go into teaching if you don’t get excited about seeing students succeed.”

While Battistone’s passion is teaching, he said there were a few adjustments he had to make in his life to accommodate for the teacher lifestyle.

“People underestimate how exhausting it is,” he said. “Having to stand up and teach and really work with students is draining. They are challenging you academically every day, so you always have to be on your toes.”

Student teaching is an interesting transition, Battistone said. Throughout the experience, students assume all the responsibilities of their mentor teachers — the teachers whose classrooms they take over for the semester — yet they are often not much older than the students they are teaching.

“That’s one difficult thing about being a teacher right out of college,” Battistone said. “I’m not that far removed. It’s just kind of an awkward feeling because I remember being in their seats not that long ago.”

For junior Lisa Myers, even the students in her third grade classroom felt they were near the same age range as her.

“I walked in and was talking to the teacher while the students were working. This tiny little pipsqueak came up and stood next to the teacher as we talked,” Myers said. “She looked at me, then at her teacher, then at me again and turned to her teacher and said matter-of-factly, ‘She looks like she’s 10.’”

Student teachers are lectured about inappropriate relationships with students. It is important to keep teacher-pupil relationships professional. There should never be any exchanging of Facebook names or phone numbers.

This information doesn’t stop students from trying however. Field had an interesting experience with a male student, Jamal, in a ninth grade math class at Roosevelt High School.

“I’m always asked about my personal life,” Field said. “I always get asked if I have a boyfriend. I’ve even been asked to prom before.”

Field said that whenever Jamal was in class, he would try to talk to her and be “really flirty.” One day the teacher stepped out of the room early for class, and Jamal stood up.

“He said, ‘Ms. Field, I wrote you a song.’ So I said ‘Oh yeah? Let’s hear it then,’ and he just started rapping this crazy rap. It was actually really good, but it was him asking me to prom. I declined.”

Although students come across strange situations now and again, they said that overall the Drake School of Education prepares them well for the real world. Drake agrees and feels the students do a great job. He specifically remembers one student who had to confront a third-grade student who fell asleep in class.

“She (the student teacher) just kept talking, went over and put her hand on his shoulder. She never missed a beat, never embarrassed him. That’s something a student teacher really did well as far as non-verbal communication,” Drake said.

Drake University must be doing something right. Even with all the crazy classroom experiences, students have a 90-percent placement rate. Students are teaching all over the world, including Egypt and Costa Rica.

Battistone recently signed a contract with Dowling Catholic to teach world religion and U.S. history. He said he is excited to begin the next stage in his teaching career, but that he won’t forget what he learned during his student teaching experience.

“The best advice I ever got was: If you enjoy what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life,” Battistone said.

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