Preparing future teachers

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Megan Vockrodt has wanted to be a teacher since childhood.

“I’ve always loved learning new things,” said Vockrodt, a Northern State University honors student from Pierre. “I also enjoy helping others, so being a teacher combines the two. Teaching is just something I fell in love with when I was in elementary school.”

Vockrodt, a senior elementary education major, learned first-hand what it’s like to be a teacher thanks to her student-teaching experience. As a participant in the NSU Year-long Teacher Residency Program, Vockrodt assisted in Jennifer Phillips’ fourth-grade classroom at Aberdeen’s Lincoln Elementary the entire academic year.

“Having a mentor to walk me through the whole school year step-by-step is so nice,” she said.

Providing that extra head start for prospective teachers is the purpose of the year-long program. The program is a clinically rich capstone experience that assists the NSU School of Education in reaching its goal of developing teaching candidates with highly effective teaching skills.

NSU launched the program during the 2013-14 academic year. That year, five teacher candidates were involved – three elementary education candidates and two special education majors.  A total of 11 students have chosen to complete a year-long experience since the program started. The 2014-15 group included six candidates, all of whom were elementary education majors. Three elementary education teacher candidates will be part of the program starting this fall.

Highlights of student-teaching experience

In her student-teaching experience, Vockrodt enjoyed seeing kids have that “lightbulb moment” when they finally understand a concept and can feel a real sense of accomplishment.

“As a teacher, that’s what you live for, is moments like that,” she said.

Other NSU students who participated in the year-long program praised the valuable experience.

“Northern’s residency program allows future teachers to experience the unexpected and the unforgettable,” said Michyl Miller, who student taught in a second-grade classroom at Aberdeen’s Lincoln Elementary. “These experiences become the little things that make an extraordinary difference. The immediate relationships that are built with the students are also incredible.”

“I couldn’t imagine heading into my own classroom without this type of experience,” said Justin Lematta, who student taught in a third-grade classroom in the Leola School District. “This has been one of the best choices I have made in my NSU career, and I am very thankful for this opportunity.”

Program benefits students and teachers

Area educators who have been involved with the program are also happy with the experience. Holly Mueller, third-grade teacher in the Leola School District, said the residency program benefits all parties involved.

“The students have additional help in the classroom. The mentor teacher learns alongside the teacher candidate. The teacher candidates are more prepared when they enter the field of education and have their own classroom,” Mueller said.

Kathy Moore, fourth-grade teacher at O.M. Tiffany Elementary, offered a quotation that summarized the benefits of the program.

“‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’ This quote sums up the whole of my co-teaching experience so far,” Moore said. “As a mentor teacher, I am learning as much as my teaching candidate.”