Sink or swim

New student teachers learn the ropes within MCHS and ISU to further their teaching knowledge and jump-start their teaching careers
Student teacher Alex Maurer stands in front of his American Studies class on Oct. 4. Because of a budding relationship with Illinois State University, MCHS is attracting both student teachers and new teachers from the university.
Student teacher Alex Maurer stands in front of his American Studies class on Oct. 4. Because of a budding relationship with Illinois State University, MCHS is attracting both student teachers and new teachers from the university.
Leylah Moreno

A new student teacher stands in front of a loud classroom of high school students, a core feeling of excitement and nervousness to get to teach their first-ever class of students on their own. Trying to do the best they can to impress the class, while also getting a good student teaching score, that same student teacher, despite the difficulty of their training, finds their spark and love for teaching.

All teachers need to start somewhere, and many student teachers have to start teaching while taking classes for their undergraduate degree in education.

“A semester before graduation student teachers take their content area of capstone courses,” said Dr. Gary Higham, Associate Director in Student Teaching and Partnership Development at Illinois State University, “and then the year before that they’ll take all of their professional sequence courses, courses on the professionalism of teaching, how to build a lesson plan, how to build a unit plan, they’ll learn different ways of assessment and grading, etc.”

Many impending teachers go to Illinois State University for Education and partake in a student teaching program for one fall semester, or take a year-long program that prepares them for the classroom.

“The student-teacher program I went through,” explains Miranda Ramirez, an ISU alumni and biology teacher, “you are at a school for a full year. The first semester you are kind of just observing and getting a feeling of the classroom, learning about who the kids are, and learning about the curriculum all that then comes the second semester, when you fully take over. You are the teacher, sink or swim, have fun, but my coordinating teacher will be here to support me in any way she can.” 

Student teachers must get a certain number of hours of student teaching within a classroom before becoming full-time teachers.

“With student teaching and teaching in general at ISU,” explains student teacher Alex Maurer, “you get a lot of experience before you actually do it. So I’ve had a good amount of clinical hours before I even got here. So probably at least 300 hours of teaching. I’d say before I got here [at MCHS], I had a lot of teaching experience. I was in classrooms all over the place. I even worked in a classroom in Spain,” 

These student teaching programs allow for impending teachers to get hands-on experience before entering the classroom. 

“I think the benefit of this program is that it is all taken care of in the fall. They are already well versed with who’s who, what’s what, and what goes where, and day one is just, it’s their classroom,” said Dr. Jay Percell, Interim Director at ISU, “So by the time they are out of it, I hear that so many times from administrators that say that they look like they are already first-year teachers and really they are brand new.”

MCHS has developed a relationship with ISU within its administrators.

“The Teacher Education Center at ISU, we have a connection with the administrators at McHenry and we have conversations every semester, related to; Do we have faculty members who are interested in mentoring student teachers? If so, in what content areas? The administrators will tell us if they have potential hiring needs, because of new positions being built, or retiree positions coming out,” said Dr. Gingham.

With this new relationship student teachers have the opportunity to work alongside other Illinois State alumni.

“We’re kind of developing a pipeline from our campus to McHenry so that McHenry teachers are training and mentoring those individuals as student teachers and then hopefully hiring them as teachers here,” continues Dr. Gingham.

New student teachers here at MCHS have expressed great gratitude for the supportive staff and welcoming environment, thanks to this connection between institutions.

“Everyone here is so fun and so friendly,” said Maurer. “The vibes are great. It’s been really cool. Everyone is also so knowledgeable. It’s been a great place to learn. I have no complaints.It’s been super cool to be here.”

Even prior student teachers turned new teachers have really enjoyed working at MCHS.

“Like I love it here,”  explains Ramirez. “I do not imagine myself soon leaving this school because of the atmosphere and the environment and the support from the admin that a lot of teachers don’t get at other schools, but I just love it here and I don’t really wanna leave right now.”

Student teaching is not an easy thing, there needs to be a right balance between all work, but with hard work, dedication, and persistence, many student teachers from ISU alongside MCHS have made their mark on the teaching world.

“If it weren’t for these guys … being super persistent and [telling me] you’ll be happy here, you should go here, you need to go here,” Ramirez concludes, “I probably wouldn’t have ended up here and I probably wouldn’t have ended up happy.”

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