- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

Bonnie Vining of Vienna has paid her dues as a student. Now she is taking her place at the front of the class. As a student teacher at Langley High School in McLean, Miss Vining, 43, is presenting a unit on drama to Anna Cohen’s 10th-grade English class. As part of the curriculum, she will be reviewing Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and Athol Fugard’s “My Children! My Africa!”

Completing this teaching internship is one of the requirements for Miss Vining to receive her master’s degree in education from George Washington University. Upon graduation in May, she will be certified to teach middle and high school students in English.

“We get to know all aspects of the school culture,” Miss Vining says. “It won’t be a big shock when I get to teach. … The internship has been the most valuable part of the program.”

Student teaching is the hands-on segment of receiving an undergraduate or graduate degree in education. Educational professionals often refer to the process as a teaching internship or clinical experience. Although soon-to-be teachers can gain a lot from a book, there’s nothing like firsthand learning.

The teaching internship is often compared to the residency undertaken by physicians, says Patricia Tate, director of laboratory experiences at George Washington University in Northwest.

“Learning to teach is a very complex process,” she says. “They need to be mentored to understand their roles and responsibilities. … Teaching is just no longer standing in front of a classroom telling people what they need to know. … We’re preparing teachers to go out and make a difference in kids’ lives. … They can make or break the life of an individual child.”

Along with the college courses, the clinical experience prepares students to receive their degrees and pass a licensing test. The exam, which is taken during the last year of study, consists of reading, writing and mathematical reasoning as well as a speciality test. The speciality test is in one of three areas: elementary education, secondary education and special education.

Secondary-education tests are broken down further into areas such as English, biology, chemistry, physics, physical science, general science, math, social studies, art, foreign language and English as a second language. Special-education tests are narrowed to topics such as early childhood education, bilingual special education, emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, acquired brain injury and noncategorical disabilities.

Once students get their degree and pass the appropriate tests, they are eligible for licensure. Licensure requirements differ slightly from state to state. Regulations in the District, Maryland and Virginia require a supervised internship for one to teach as a professional.

Student teachers who are studying at George Washington University are assigned a supervisor who visits with them about once a week to observe them and document their competency.

The interns also receive feedback from the teacher with whom they work in the classroom, says David Patterson, who is earning a master’s degree in math education. He is being mentored by Donna Erickson, who teaches math at Annandale High School. He has been working with her since September.

Although Mr. Patterson, 24, feels as though he was well-prepared to teach in a real classroom, he says none of his book work compares to actually working with students.

For instance, on a regular day, some students need to make up work because they were absent. Although curveballs such as this may throw off the plan for the day, Mr. Patterson says, he needs to be flexible with his students while making sure he covers all the necessary material.

“I show the students respect,” he says. “In showing that I respect them, it usually works out that they return the respect to me. … You definitely have to try to lead by example.”

Before spending an entire semester in a clinical experience, students at American University in Northwest must complete an extended practicum, which prepares them to enter a full-time classroom environment, says Mona Wineburg, director of teacher education at American. All student teachers are in the classroom all day, every day, for a minimum of 14 weeks.

“You have somebody there who … talks to you after the lessons and says what are the good things and what you could do better next time,” she says. “We don’t want people to experiment on the children of this country.”

Bill Kuendig, 26, is enjoying his internship with Joseph Hills, a ninth-grade world studies teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. He plans to graduate in May from American University with a dual master’s degree in teaching secondary education and international peace and conflict resolution.

Teaching isn’t as simple as some people imagine, Mr. Kuendig says. During his clinical experience, he has had to lead a class outside during a fire drill, design a quiz and dismiss a student for swearing in class. He takes seriously his responsibility as a role model.

“It isn’t a job that if you get fired, there are no repercussions,” he says. “You don’t want to get in there and potentially make a bad impression on the students. You want them to be in a good learning environment to create a community.”

Sometimes, the transition from student to teacher is a rough one, especially if a student teacher isn’t accepted by the classroom. Peter Rennert-Ariev, co-coordinator of teacher education at Loyola College in Baltimore, advises his pupils that they shouldn’t become too “buddy-buddy” with their students. Otherwise, they won’t earn respect from their class.

“Instead, try to strike an appropriate balance between a healthy rapport with the students and creating a professional respect,” he says. “It’s a big challenge for many student teachers.”

Despite any difficulties, a teaching internship — not a full-time job — is a better environment in which to perfect skills, says Sue O’Connell, coordinator of professional-development schools in the department of curriculum and instruction in the college of education at the University of Maryland in College Park.

She says she hopes students become wiser during mentorship about many issues, such as working with parents, which often can be tricky.

“You have to develop the art of teaching,” she says. “You have to put theory into practice.”

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