Taking charge of the classroom

SMSU education majors teach, manage duties at Park Side

Photo by Jenny Kirk Two young students are assisted with their shaving cream activity by Southwest Minnesota State University teaching student Kelly Nettik during the second full day of clinical teaching experience on Tuesday at Park Side Elementary.

MARSHALL — For more than 35 years, Marshall Public Schools and Southwest Minnesota State University have collaborated to help in the development of future teachers through clinical teaching experiences.

On Monday and Tuesday, 34 of those future teachers — current SMSU education majors — completely took over classroom duties at Park Side Elementary.

“The SMSU students take care of everything,” Park Side Principal Darci Love said. “It’s a requirement that they have to use the standards and meet with the classroom teacher. They set up a classroom management system and teach all the content areas. They each pick a theme, and the (Park Side) kids just love it.”

While one classroom had a sports theme where the photos of students in SMSU jerseys were hung up on the Wall of Fame and their lockers were part of the locker room, another classroom was reading under the “Big Top.” Also part of the carnival theme, some kindergarteners were practicing writing their letters in shaving cream.

SMSU juniors Alexis Streich and Carly Robillard teamed up to teach in one of the kindergarten classrooms.

“It’s been really nice to actually be in charge of the classroom,” Streich said. “We’ve had so many experiences going into the classrooms where the classroom teacher is also there, so it’s been really cool to practice classroom management especially, just to put what we’ve learned back at SMSU in the classroom here. We’ve been able to implement different strategies, so that’s been really cool, too.”

Streich said she doesn’t take the experience for granted.

“I’m so glad we get this opportunity because a lot of colleges don’t offer a clinical opportunity,” she said. “So this is great.”

Streich said one of the biggest challenges is trying to rein in the energetic children.

“With kindergartners, getting their attention can be difficult, especially when we’re not here everyday and they’re not used to us, so they have millions of questions,” she said. “It can be difficult to get their attention and get them to be settled down because they get excited so easily. But it’s lots of fun.”

Robillard agreed, noting that the experience includes a huge learning curve.

“It’s exciting and a lot of learn all at once, so it’s overwhelming, but its rewarding at the end of the day,” she said. “The biggest challenge is probably just wrangling up 21 kindergartners every hour. They have so much energy.”

Robillard said she plans to be a special education teacher.

“This is a good experience for me to be in the general ed classroom, too, and then also work with the special ed kids who are in the classroom, to figure out how they learn within the general ed classroom,” Robillard said. “I know inclusion is kind of a big deal these days. So trying to get them involved in the classroom and be accommodating to their needs and everything is really important. It’s fun.”

Prior to the clinical experience the past two days, Streich thought she might prefer teaching older elementary students. But now, she’s expanded her focus.

“I always saw myself teaching older elementary, so being in kindergarten for this experience has opened up my mind that maybe early elementary would be an option, too,” Streich said. “That’s what I think is cool. A lot of my classroom experiences have been in the upper elementary classrooms, which I like, but this is nice, too. They’re just different kinds of experiences and both have their ups and downs.”

Robillard and Streich chose “Under the Sea” as their theme, and along with a purple octopus decorating the classroom door, there were several crafts and activities geared along those lines.

“They kids made jelly fish crowns (Monday),” Streich said. “The kids think they’re the coolest things ever. We’ve been doing lots of crafts. We read ‘The Rainbow Fish’ (Monday) and we made rainbow fish on paper plates. That was fun. They learn so much through hands-on activities and crafts. That’s what keeps them engaged.”

SMSU Education Professor Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester teaches two sections of the Classroom Management and Theory course and has seen the benefits of the clinical teaching opportunities — both from a professional and personal experience.

“I can remember my clinical like it was yesterday, even though it was in 1985,” Schoolmeester said. “We did ours at Holy Redeemer and I still remember that my topic was the Statue of Liberty. So I know it’s an experience they never forget. And it’s probably the closest they get to teaching other than student teaching. They’re in the classroom figuring thing out and yet the (regular) teachers are right here if they need them. It’s a great experience.”

This year marks the first time that the teaching experience has taken place in the fall.

“This is the first time we’ve done it in the fall since I’ve been teaching (at SMSU) and that’s been more than 15 years,” Schoolmeester said. “It’s because of all the testing that has come down. It was sometimes difficult to work with West Side because they have all the (state) testing to do.

Last fall, Schoolmeester said she sat down with Love and Jeremy Williams, who was the West Side principal at that time, to discuss other options.

“We brainstormed and they both thought it would be really good to do it in the fall,” Schoolmeester said. “It took a year to get it that way.”

The past few years, Schoolmeester said the numbers have dropped, but that they’d oftentimes taken over the whole school in the past.

“This year, there are 16 classrooms they are taking over at Park Side,” she said. “Two years ago, we went over to West Side and only took over one grade. We said we’d come back the next year to take over the other grade, but then we had enough, so we took over the whole school.”

Part of the experience includes an observation piece, which is conducted by retired MPS teachers and current SMSU professors — including Education Professors Dr. Sonya Vierstraete, Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter and Dr. Lloyd Petersen.

Love said the Park Side teachers who vacated their classrooms to allow for the SMSU students to teach for two days also benefit. For much of the time, the teachers get together with others teaching the same grade level.

“The classroom teachers are here and they have a chance to work on their own things while the SMSU students are here,” Love said. “They’re in the building, but not in their classrooms. They’re looking at student data and planning curriculum. This is a valuable two days for them because it’s time they can really get stuff done with time they typically don’t have during the school year.”

Paraprofessionals continue to work in their regular classrooms.

Schoolmeester said Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) requires so many hours in the classroom, so the clinical experience helps provide many of them.

“We call this class their junior methods class, although some are seniors,” she said. “Along with junior methods class, there are math methods, science methods, social methods, reading methods. When I go recruiting with Admissions, This is one of the classes I talk highly about because everybody remembers it. I don’t know if many other colleges do this two-day, theme-based takeover.”

Schoolmeester said they talk a lot about the theorists of classroom management, but that the SMSU students form their own philosophy of what classroom management is as well.

“They have to apply that in the classroom they’re in right now,” Schoolmeester said. “However, they’re a guest here, so if the classroom teacher wants them to stick with what the classroom already does, they stick with that and tweak it just a little bit to fit their theme.”

Schoolmeester only recalls one student who decided the teaching profession wasn’t the appropriate career path after taking part in the clinical experience. But there were also other factors at play.

“She got out of sequence in her classes and she hadn’t taken her other methods classes yet when she took Classroom Management,” she said. “She didn’t have that background piece. She was too overwhelmed and she did leave.”

Love said that typically by their junior year, the students have a good handle on their chosen career path.

“Usually by the time they’re juniors, they’ll pretty settled in and know this is what they want to do,” Love said. “You try to give them experience as a freshman and as a sophomore, to be out in the schools so they know if (teaching) is right for them. It’s a great partnership between the schools and SMSU.”

Schoolmeester said that field experiences were definitely something SMSU prides itself on.

“The students get a lot,” she said.