November 15, 2012
Headstart in the classroom
Groton pairs with SUNY Cortland on new teaching initiative
GROTON — SUNY Cortland senior Helenni Kuma stood in front of a classroom full of third-graders Wednesday and led them through a math exercise.
Down the hall at Groton Elementary School, seniors Chelsie Becker and Liz Lenzi helped kindergarten teachers in their respective classes teach shapes and sounds.
The three are part of a 15-student contingent from the college that has been trying something new the past two weeks: working with teachers all day as colleagues, instead of observing classes for two hours once a week.
Education majors at SUNY Cortland spend 50 hours over 16 weeks observing in classrooms before they turn to student teaching, the path to their teaching license. They watch without really interacting with children, then write papers about what they see.
The two-week pilot program in Groton offers more of a bridge from their courses to actually teaching. They have spent every day from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. with their elementary classrooms, excused from their courses on campus.
“It’s worked out real well,” said Lenzi, who is from Saratoga Springs. “I’ve gotten to know the kids better.”
“I love her, I don’t know what I’d do without her,” said Lenzi’s host teacher, Bev Lacey. “I didn’t realize how much another pair of hands can do. She’s very passionate, very motivated.”
Becker, who is from Moravia, said when Veterans Day caused schools to be off Monday, she sat in her regular classes at SUNY Cortland and missed the kindergartners. She has been working with teacher Mary Eldred and special education aide Beth O’Brien.
Renee Potter, a SUNY Cortland professor who coordinates student teaching in early childhood and childhood education, said the college’s faculty have long wondered if the observation method really helped college students prepare for student teaching. She said the faculty developed the new approach and asked Groton Central School if its teachers would serve as the first hosts.
Potter said the college has a long-standing good relationship with Groton. Principal Tim Heller said he served on a panel of administrators at the college a few years ago, who discussed new ways to approach teacher education.
Heller said the program has been tremendous and the teachers and college faculty are revising it for the spring semester, based on what they have seen.
Heller said college students can see if they actually like teaching or excel at it, before becoming student teachers. He has known some, in various disciplines, who decided the classroom was not for them after all.
None of the students in the pilot program has shown any hesitation to become teachers.
Heller said the SUNY Cortland students help when a class is split into “learning centers” of three to four pupils, who alternate what they are doing. In the class where Lenzi helped Lacey, kindergartners were divided between math and English language arts exercises, with some using iPads to try both subjects.
Heller said he met with SUNY Cortland faculty in May to plan the program. The college students visited the school in August to see where they would be working, then spent two mornings with their host teachers in September and October, Potter said.
Kuma, working with teacher Anita Kirby, said she was surprised to be leading a math exercise. The senior from Saranac Lake also had helped with a history lesson in third-grade teacher Nancy Triolo’s class.
Fifth-grade teacher Sarah Neff said she wishes she had been able to interact with children, as the students have done, when she was a SUNY Cortland student seven years ago. Her student colleague was Lexi Kerr, a junior from Camillus.
“I didn’t get to delve into the material as these students do,” Neff said. “These students are getting a rich experience. Lexi is part of our classroom, not just an observer. She’s another adult in the room.”
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