Every Wednesday, a group of student teachers meet in the seminar room in Tyler Hall, primarily to discuss how their weeks are going and ways in which they can improve what they are doing. They meet with Professors Shelley Ellis and Gail Surwill, who frequently provide the students with bread, butter, and the occasional snack food. After discussing items on the agenda, their “highs” and “lows,” and catching up with each other, they pack their bags, head back home, and get ready for the lessons they will be teaching the next day.
These student teachers have worked their way through the education program at Rocky Mountain College and are now teaching at several schools around the Billings area. The fourteen student teachers are paired with mentor teachers who occasionally guide them through planning and classroom management. For the most part, these RMC students are left to their own devices, teaching curric- ulum and managing their respective classrooms independently.
The RMC education program is known for its rigor and active integration in the local school districts. In order to graduate through the program, education majors must complete 124 semester hours with a cumulative GPA of 2.5. Degrees in elementary education and in secondary education specialist field are offered.
Elementary education majors must take courses in a variety of subjects as they will be teaching math, art, science, social studies, and language arts. Secondary education majors must complete several courses on their subject area of choice. For example, science broadfield education majors must complete courses in biology, physics, and chemistry. Both majors must also complete courses specific to education, covering topics such as classroom management, developing assessment based on standards, and fulfilling the needs of curriculum in the classroom.
While professors Shelley Ellis and Gail Surwill supervise RMC’s student teachers–occasionally observing their teaching when appropriate–they have worked with many of these enthusiastic educators since their freshman year. Professor Ellis feels particularly connected with this group of student teachers, who “[are] much more inclined to hang out and talk after class.” The stronger the connections made between teacher and student, the more likely engaged learning will happen in the classroom, and Ellis has helped form those connections throughout her years teaching education courses at RMC.
As education students take these courses, they must also work in classrooms within the district to gain experience necessary to prepare for student teaching. They must complete two practica, one as a sophomore. Here the student primarily observes lessons being taught and occasionally leads portions of lessons, and one as a junior, where the student observes most days and teaches at least two full-scale lessons. In addition, elementary education majors work several additional hours to fulfill requirements for a number of their courses, and secondary education majors teach at least an additional six lessons in a senior-level field experience.
Once they are ready to student teach, they meet with their mentor teachers to discuss what must be taught throughout the course of a semester. Student teachers observe their mentor teachers for one week before starting the transition into teaching full time. After one to two weeks of transitionary time, the student teacher takes over management of the classroom completely and maintains that level of management for nine full weeks before handing the class back to the mentor teacher. This semester’s student teachers began their work before RMC’s official semester started and will finish in mid-April.
Making the transition from teaching a handful of lessons to nine weeks’ worth of lesson plans in a row is a daunting task. However, these upcoming graduates are maintain their resolve. English education major Kaleb Price says he is given helpful reminders and incentives to keep going. Sometimes, he says, he gets “that feeling that you get when you struggle, are challenged, that you should have chosen a different career. But then that one student walks in and says, ‘thank you.’” It’s in those moments that these young instructors are in the fields they chose: so they can make a difference.