Written by Char Bezanson, Science Teacher, Eastview High School, Apple Valley, MN and Instructor in Education, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.Examples drawn from the 2003 workshop Developing the Earth Science Teacher Workforce.
When teachers discuss ways in which their college experience could have better prepared them for the reality of the classroom, they almost always mention increasing the amount of field experiences in the classroom. While it is hardly possible for students to be exposed to the full range of situations that they might be placed into in their first teaching job, this is one area where "more is better".
Teaching is a very complex activity. It involves planning for learning, organizing materials, prioritizing ideas, interacting with students, learning to "monitor and adjust", "differentiate instruction" for students of various abilities, and learning how to accomplish goals that sometimes seem to be mutually exclusive, all while keeping "control" of a class and meeting the expectations of parents, administrators, and peers. Real-world practice in ANY of these skills is beneficial to future teachers. TA and tutoring experience, work with scouts and youth groups, class presentations that include responsibility for assessing the learning of the audience, and a variety of related experiences are all helpful. Work in schools, especially work that involves more than observation, is particularly beneficial: experienced teachers make it look much easier than it is, and future observations are much more worthwhile after a student has had some experience. Science students were often "good at science", and were often in "honors" courses, so it's especially valuable for them to work with classes or students who struggle with science. While it is important for future teachers to be enthusiastic about their subject, they will be expected to work with all kinds of students, so it's important that they find out whether they genuinely like working with students.
Teaching experience should be "early and often". Through these experiences, future teachers learn about themselves, and whether teaching is something that they can and should do. Since communication with an audience is a big part of the jobs of many professional scientists, those who decide that K-12 teaching is not for them will still benefit from the insights they gain through school experiences.
References and Examples
Teaching experiences: translating science for a K-12 audience
- Teaching Experiences Breakout Session from 2003 On the Cutting Edge workshop, Developing the Earth Science Teacher Workforce
- Mary Savina, Carleton College, Northfield, MN
- Cathy Summa, Winona State University, Winona, MN
- Susan DeBari, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
- Steve Mattox, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI