Kent ISD — It is about noon and it’s time for math in Betsy Owens’ third-grade class at Lowell’s Cherry Creek Elementary. Owens stands at the front explaining a math game and then pairs up the students. Once the students are settled, Lowell senior James Link walks around the class, stopping by desks to help students.
“Having James here during this time has been a big help as it allows for more hands on deck in providing additional help to the students,” Owens said. “Also James is really good at math.”
Meanwhile, at Rockford’s Spanish immersion school Roguewood Elementary, junior Isabel Jardin goes over flashcards with kindergartner Ana Muñoz as teacher Amanda Weeks instructs students in Spanish.
“This is a great opportunity for me to see and experience what being a teacher is like since it is something I want to be doing,” Isabel said.
James and Isabel are among the 40 students who are getting hands-on lessons of being a classroom teacher through the Kent Career Tech Center’s new Teacher Academy.
“The need for teachers is dire,” said Teacher Academy instructor Laura Castle. “This is one answer to help with that shortage by giving students the opportunity to explore the profession.”
From Planning to Teaching
The academy, which was delayed a year due to COVID, partners a student with a mentor teacher in the 20 districts that Kent ISD serves.The students work alongside their mentors to learn about lesson planning, classroom management and different ways students learn. Students also have the opportunity to experience different grade levels, settings and subjects in hopes of helping them decide a direction they would like to go in the teaching field.
“Students will not only learn what it is like to teach elementary students versus middle school, but they will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to teach in a rural setting versus an urban one,” Castle said.
For the first three weeks, students attend class at the Tech Center, where they acquire skills and learn about the history and structure of schooling in the United States. The students are assigned to mentor teachers who give them a sense of what being in the classroom is like and demonstrate best practices when working with students.
The students work at their assigned schools four days a week, usually from about noon to the end of the school day, and attend class at the Tech Center one day a week for ongoing training and support.
Since this is the program’s first year, Castle said she paired students with teachers in their own districts, working with building principals to identify experienced teachers who would be able to showcase good teaching practices.
Going Into the Classroom
Owens, at Cherry Creek Elementary, said she received an email over the summer about being a mentor and decided to volunteer.
“It is a real benefit to the students in that it is hands-on experience, giving them an inside look at what we do as teachers,” Owens said. “Hopefully, it is helping the student decide if this is the career for them without having to make a huge capital outlay and discover they don’t like it.
“Also, I know in the case of James, he is not certain that he wants to be an elementary teacher. This gives him the chance to figure out what level and direction he wants to go.”
James said he sees himself working with secondary students, for which he will get the opportunity next semester as he is scheduled to work at a middle school. He does appreciate the opportunity of being able to work in an elementary classroom, however.
“I thought I wouldn’t like it as much as I (have),” James said of the experience. “It has been great to experience how a classroom works from the teacher’s perspective, gaining some tips and tricks and learning how to get the kids to listen to you.”
At Roguewood Elementary, Weeks said she sees the Teacher Academy as a great benefit, having known of people who have gone through schooling only to find in student teaching they did not like it.
“I knew Isabel’s family because I had had her siblings,” Weeks said. “I thought, how fun it would be for her to return back to her own elementary school.”
Isabel said the opportunity has been very educational, offering her insight into how to manage students and determining their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, Isabel is planning to sign up for the Teacher Academy program again next year in hopes of broadening her experiences.
“It’s fun,” Isabel said. “If you are not sure this is what you want to do, then it is a great opportunity to see if you like it and if it is a feasible career for you because of the hands-on experience and the opportunity to learn just what a teacher does.”