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UD elementary teacher education majors Ashley Sullivan (left) and Briana Nolin student-teaching at Providence Creek Academy.

UD elementary teacher education majors get real-world classroom experience

There’s a very good reason why 94% of undergraduates majoring in elementary teacher education (ETE) at the University of Delaware are employed as elementary, middle school or special education teachers after graduation. In addition to traditional classroom learning, ETE majors spend much of their degree program engaged in extensive field experiences in real-world educational settings—teaching, tutoring and mentoring in local schools and community centers.

Fulfilling these field experiences is how Briana Nolin and Ashley Sullivan arrived at Providence Creek Academy, a charter school 30 miles south of Newark, for their junior-year student-teaching placement. For three weeks, Nolin and Sullivan got their first taste of what it truly means to be a teacher: developing lesson plans, assessing student progress and leading a classroom of eager fourth graders.

“At first, it was a bit intimidating being up front and having full control over the class,” Nolin said. “They were so welcoming the first day we walked into the classroom. Even though we were only there for a total of 21 days, we felt instantly connected and at home with this class and teacher.”

“I’m really going to miss their help,” said Amber Smith, the fourth-grade teacher at Providence Creek Academy who hosted Nolin and Sullivan. “And I know my students will be sad to see them go.”

Teachers in Training

During the third week of their placement, Nolin and Sullivan stood at the front of Smith’s class to brainstorm with the students about Holes, a novel for young adults, written by Louis Sachar about a juvenile corrections facility in western Texas.

“What can you tell me about the setting in the book?” asked Nolin.

Fifteen hands shot up, and several students resorted to simply shouting their answers. “Desert!” “Hot!” “Dry!” “Wasteland!”

“Good answer,” Nolin replied after each suggestion, before turning to Sullivan, who kept track of the answers on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom.

When the responses slowed, Smith prompted her students to remember various scenes from the book. Once a robust list of descriptions was gathered, the class was instructed to draw pictures of the setting as described in the book.

This interactive lesson plan helped Sullivan and Nolin experience the nuances of teaching. Students arrive with varying levels of proficiency in writing or math, with different family backgrounds and different abilities. Teachers need to meet the needs of all students in the classroom, and the only way to know what this is like is to step into a classroom and practice with real students.

“I’ve had education students in my class before, but this is the first time I’ve had student-teachers from UD. They were amazing,” Smith said, via email. “I am in awe of their dedication to the field of education. They are always moving around the classroom, offering a sweet smile, a gesture of encouragement, anything they can think of to provide support for my kids.”

This was evident as the students scattered around the room to draw their pictures. Nolin and Sullivan paused at each desk to offer encouragement, such as. “I love the hammock you drew!” “Good detail on the school bus!”

Becoming a Teacher

The nature of teaching is to help others succeed, so it tends to attract those aspirational types who want to change the world. Nolin and Sullivan are no different.

“I knew since kindergarten that I wanted to become a teacher,” said Sullivan, who is from Norwood, New Jersey. “I truly have a passion for helping people, and I really adore children. With this major, I can have an impact on students’ lives, and I will do my best to make each student feel welcomed and worthy and to believe in themselves.”

Nolin grew up with a similar dream, playing teacher at home with her little sister, repeating what she learned at school. During senior year of high school, Nolin participated in an internship at her former elementary school.

“I loved the idea of being able to watch the students grow and learn throughout the year,” said Nolin, who is from Horsham, Pennsylvania. “I want to be a teacher so that I can become that person that helps children grow and achieve their goals, in and out of the classroom.”

During the 2019-20 school year, Nolin and Sullivan are scheduled to complete the degree program with two full semesters of student teaching. After graduation in the spring of 2020, they’re off to lead classrooms of their own and take their place alongside hundreds of other UD education majors serving in Delaware and beyond.

“Courses at UD prepared us for what to teach, but there are always things that happen in a classroom that cannot be predicted,” Sullivan said. “Getting used to anticipating errors and outbursts from students was definitely something I learned while in Amber’s classroom.”

Nolin found that she became a more confident teacher.

“I’ve learned that it is okay to make mistakes and to be honest with myself and the students,” said Nolin.

Smith said she very impressed by Nolin and Sullivan, which will help future UD students find similar opportunities.

“They came into the classroom so professional and got to know the students as individuals,” Smith said. “Within days they had identified the kids who needed extra help. I would definitely have UD students in my classroom again.”

Read the full article in UDaily