Classes You Dread, But Shouldn’t: Education majors obtain experience by student teaching

Almost all Gannon University education majors have an initial fear of student teaching – but should they?

According to two Gannon students and one education faculty member, the high anxiety that comes in anticipation of student teaching is unnecessary.

Janice Whiteman, an assistant professor in Gannon’s education department and director of student teaching for eight years, said education students – or “teacher candidates,” – are well-prepared by the time they begin student teaching.

“We would not be placing them in a school if we didn’t believe that they were ready,” she said.

In fact, the actual student teaching doesn’t happen until a teacher candidate’s final semester of his or her senior year.

Senior early childhood education major Jacquelyn Huff has not yet started her student teaching, but said she has gotten plenty of experience through her education classes and practicum placements.

Whiteman said that teacher candidates obtain an average of 420 hours of experience with real students before they begin student teaching.

She said the practicum experience begins freshman year in the candidates’ first-year seminar course. The candidates in that course must complete 10 hours of service with children in their majors’ age range.

Then, Whiteman said three stages of practicum placements occur before a teacher candidate begins student teaching. The candidates’ amount of responsibility increases with each stage. Stage one is limited to observation, stage two involves aiding the classroom teacher and stage three includes some real teaching and lesson planning.

Once the teacher candidates have made it through these stages, Whiteman said, they are ready to student teach. The candidates have 14 weeks of student teaching in which they report only to the school where they are placed.

She said they follow the schedule of their school district – not Gannon’s schedule – and they report to their assigned school all day every day, just like a professional teacher would.

Senior English/secondary education major Mitchel Meighen said he thinks most people don’t understand the stress that accompanies student teaching.

“When you student-teach, you are the teacher,” he said. “You arrive and leave with your cooperating teacher who gets a salary to do the same things that you are doing.”

Many education students, such as Huff and Meighen, express anxiety about student teaching. Whiteman said that because teacher candidates are so well prepared to student-teach, they do not need to be worried.

She said the candidates should have their portfolios – the final project education students must compile in order to graduate – organized before the student teaching starts.

She said they should also take advantage of their practicum experience and, most importantly, utilize faculty.

“Communication is extremely important,” she said.

Huff said one important aspect to approaching student teaching is to learn from your mistakes.

“You cannot learn everything from textbooks and lectures,” she said. “Some things you have to experience for yourself, and teaching is one of them.”

One thing Huff and Meighen did stress about was traveling back and forth between Gannon and their placements. They said that traveling in Erie’s harsh weather can be difficult, but that was practically the only downside to student teaching in their eyes.

Both students said student teaching can have its obstacles and stressors, but they agreed it is no reason to dread the experience. Meighen said that the good aspects of student teaching definitely outweigh the bad.

“Even though my student teaching was difficult and stressful a lot of the time,” he said, “I loved it.”


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