SOE News

Students to teachers
Education majors get early training

Huddled together, a group of second graders enthusiastically began to glue milk carton houses on green construction paper lawns.

Behind them, their teacher smiled and helped them along. And though her role in the classroom has changed, she herself is still a student.

This scene comes from a second grade class led by Elizabeth Cherry, a senior elementary education major spending her last semester at the University teaching full time.

Cherry is one of six student teachers at E.K. Powe Elementary School in Durham this semester. Her class is working on a project to construct rural, suburban and metropolitan cities out of household items and art supplies.

"I think people have this idea that teaching is easy," Cherry said, "But it's not." She said she loves her work despite the difficulties.

"Teaching is definitely one of the most rewarding things you can do."

UNC elementary and middle school education majors are required to spend one day a week assisting at a school during the fall semester of their senior year. During spring semester, they gradually accept more responsibilities in the classroom until they ultimately teach full time, under the supervision of a cooperating teacher.

"I feel like I'm torn between two worlds," Cherry said, adding that finding a balance between enjoying her last semester as a student while simultaneously serving as a full-time teacher is a difficult task.

Dwight Rogers is a professor in the School of Education and the University supervisor to the student teachers. He said it can be frustrating for them to teach full time and be responsible for 20 children while their friends are busy "doing the senior thing."

The full-time student teachers, for example, take their Spring Breaks with E.K. Powe rather than with UNC and their fellow students.

"I've been really pleased with how well they've done in terms of their commitment to learning how to teach and their commitment to the children," Rogers said.

Hilary McIntosh, another student teacher from the University, teaches fifth grade at E.K. Powe. She said that she was nervous and uncertain of her abilities before she started but that she has loved the experience and has learned a lot from the diverse demographic in her classroom.

Her class contains students who are learning English as a second language as well as some with disabilities. "It's kids that I didn't grow up going to school with," she said.

She's faced many challenges associated with having such a wide array of students, such as needing to adjust her lesson plans to enable all the students to learn the material.

Rogers said having diversity in the classroom has been a learning experience for teachers as well as students.

"Powe dispels a lot of the myths we have about children who were often marginalized," he said. "They're bright. They're interested. They want to be there."

Learning about teaching is much different than actually doing it, Rogers said. "They're not teachers yet, and they're not students anymore."

Vanessa Johnson, the student teacher for a third-grade class, also said the transition from student to teacher presents a challenge.

"You can read a book all day, but when you're thrown in there with the kids, it's a totally different experience," she said.

Principal Cheryl Fuller said she has been pleased with the performance of the student teachers.

"It's been a really positive experience doing it this way," she said. "They've come to feel like a part of our staff faster than most teachers do."

Rogers also praised them, saying he is "in awe" of their abilities.

"If all teachers were like these six, we could change the world."

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