- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - There’s no substitute for experience, especially when it involves speaking in front of others and teaching.

That’s one of the premises with a Wayne State College program in its first full year called Professional Development Schools (PDS). It is designed to give future teachers practical experience in the classroom before they go out and practice teach before graduation.

The Norfolk Daily News (https://bit.ly/2hSzGsG ) reports the program had 10 PDS students at Norfolk Catholic and 15 PDS students at Wakefield this semester. Many of the students will be participating again next semester at the two schools.

“They get to have hands-on experience and see the whole experience (of teaching),” said Joni Irlmeier of Wayne State College, who along with the college’s Judy Moeller, oversee the program.

Each day this semester, the students traveled from Wayne to Norfolk and Wakefield and took over much of the teaching duties in the morning. They worked with teachers at the school to prepare lessons, and then received help from the teachers in the classroom as needed.

Later in the morning each day, the college student teachers gathered and met with Irlmeier and Moeller to discuss what went well, any possible problems and to get feedback.

The experience these students obtain, usually during their junior years, is seen as extremely beneficial, especially in regard to the students’ confidence in their ability to teach.

“Some of these students will graduate and have three full semesters in three different school systems and at three different age levels with actual, hands-on experience,” Irlmeier said. “Student teaching would be just one semester.”

Both Irlmeier and Moeller teach at Wayne State College in the afternoons along with overseeing PDS.

“It keeps us all busy,” Irlmeier said. “The students also have other responsibilities, like classes and work - if they can possibly manage it.”

The program is offered with at least 20 colleges and universities across the United States. Students have to apply for PDS and be accepted. Those who tend to do it generally understand the importance of the experience.

“It’s a challenge. It isn’t the easy route, but I would say the students who do it know how much they gain through it,” said Irlmeier, who researched the program and did a dissertation on it for her doctorate degree.

It also helps students get jobs. School districts like to hire teachers who are experienced in the classroom, but it is hard for new graduates to get that experience without a job.

The students get 13 credit hours for it, but many also are taking other credit hours during the semester. Wayne State also participated in PDS years ago before returning to it recently.

Plans are to add a third school into the mix. It will need to be in fairly close proximity because of the daily commute. It also is limited by the number of faculty at Wayne State available to oversee students.

Bill Lafleur, principal at Norfolk Catholic, said his school became involved a little over two years ago when Troy Berryman, the then-president of Norfolk Catholic, visited with Wayne State officials to see if there were ways they could be more connected.

“It was a partnership that started from its infancy,” Lafleur said. “We had to develop it from the ground up, starting with a lot of questions. Last year was the first year that we started, with about five students.”

Lafleur said about half of the teachers at the grade school are involved. It is optional. The feedback from the teachers has been very positive, he said.

He described the arrangement as a “win” for everyone - the schools, the college, the students being taught and the students getting experience.

Moeller said the partnership between teachers and college students involves a lot of coaching.

Lafleur agreed. He said while there might be some training initially by the teachers with the college students, it quickly becomes both a partnership and a mentoring relationship.

“Each person is getting something from the other,” he said. “It’s a give from both sides. These students come in and they give to our teachers, such as new practices or cutting edge philosophy or new research that we aren’t aware of yet. And then our teachers can help them. Sometimes there is a gap between the skills you learn in the college classroom and implementing those same skills as a working teacher. This program is great to close that gap.”

Many of the student teachers mentioned they learned how flexible teachers have to be because of factors beyond their control. They almost unanimously said how their confidence soared.

“Prior to this program, my biggest worry was classroom management,” said student Brooke Brockman. “I feared the teacher would leave the room just for a minute and the kids would go wild. No, that never actually happened, and I could keep most of the students clued in on me. So, come to find out, I can manage a classroom.”


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, https://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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