Dedicated teachers ready to launch
Story and photos by Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
Her student-teaching requirements were completed on Nov. 29, yet Nichole Flink has returned to her seventh-graders the past three days to grade their essays. She will continue until Friday, when she expects to complete all 129 essays.
Flink’s dedication is indicative of graduates of the Grand Canyon University College of Education, who celebrated the completion of their student-teaching assignments Monday night, ahead of their graduation on Dec. 14.
“You can tell the difference when you go into classrooms of our GCU-prepared teachers,’’ said COE Dean Dr. Kimberly LaPrade. “They are literature rich, they are decorated, they are alive, there are things on the walls and there are posters. It is a rich learning environment; our instructors model that all the time, even in a celebration such as this.’’
Along with LaPrade, members of the COE faculty celebrated with the 60 soon-to-be teachers by feeding them pizza and showering them with arts and crafts décor for their classrooms, GCU alumni pennants and framed inspirational wall hangings.
“It is so exciting,’’ LaPrade said. “They are excited to launch into this career. The majority have jobs before they graduate, so it is a wonderful way to come and celebrate this momentous occasion. They are a success because they did it.’’
Upon completing a program exit survey, Flink shared her experiences with English Language Arts students in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) class at Kyrene Aprende Middle School in Chandler.
“They were quick to catch on,’’ she said. “I was prepared for regular education kids. I was prepared to deconstruct everything, but you would tell these students what to do and they would said, ‘yup, got it’ and they would go right to work. So you had to make the lessons a little harder. And you had to make them engaging.’’
Flink also shifted her thinking between group work and independent work.
“Part of being gifted is that some students don’t like group work as much they prefer solo work,’’ she said.
As required, she put accommodations into place, facilitating solo presentations and writing on paper rather than the electronic blog on Google Classroom that was utilized by most of her students. In raising the bar, she assigned 50 pages of student choice reading per week.
“Some students struggle with literary devices, figurative language and imagery, so we want them to get more accustomed to it by reading fiction,’’ she said. “They can read nonfiction, but it has to be a biography.’’
Written essays connected to the 50 pages of reading were due every Thursday.
“I was actually awkward at teaching writing,’’ Flink said. “I know how to write, but to have to break it down for a seventh-grade level was different. So I learned a whole lot in that aspect. And I learned more about planning lessons. The planning had to be so high a level that they had a totally different curriculum from regular standards.’’
Although the essays can be graded electronically through Google Classroom, Flink prefers to print each one and make notes on them, using symbols that indicate upper case error or pronoun error or format issue. She uses a rubric, provided by her host teacher.
“We don’t want students to destroy their entire grade because of grammatical errors, so we grade in three areas: focus and organization, development of ideas, and conventions,’’ said the senior from Covina, Calif.
She surprised her host teacher by staying beyond her student-teaching time frame.
“I wanted to help my students by completing the essay grading with a lot of feedback,’’ she said.
Flink was modeling COE faculty, along with her peer, Sarah Schalick, who felt thoroughly prepared for her first-grade student-teaching assignment.
When asked to highlight a trio of teachers who provided extra guidance, Schalick was stymied — because they all did.
“To be completely honest, I have loved each and every single teacher I have had here,’’ she said. “They have been so passionate about teaching future teachers, and it is so inspiring to me that I have been guided by those who not only love to teach but love to teach future teachers. The teachers here have guided me to be the best teacher I can be.’’
Assistant professor Paul Danuser falls into that category. The former high school English teacher prepares aspiring teachers at the secondary level, grades 6-12. On Monday, he blessed all the students with a heartfelt prayer.
“We are so very proud of you and thankful for you,’’ he said. “We are so very excited for you. You are already making an impact on the community.’’
Schalick, an elementary education major with an endorsement in theatre, made her impact on 26 students at Field Elementary in Mesa.
“The student-teaching experience in the fall is such a blessing to be starting with the students, because they are new and so am I,’’ she said.
Despite years of preparation, Schalick experienced an epiphany.
“I knew teachers did a lot, and I knew how much I loved and appreciated them, but you don’t really, truly understand how much you love teachers until you have to be in the position to teach,’’ she said.
Her most daunting challenge was classroom management, convincing pint-sized students to write or read or add or line up for recess.
“They might act out because they are lacking something at home,’’ Schalick said. “So the most love and kindness that you can bring to that class might be one of those areas they are lacking in at home. They can see that in your firmness and with your consequences that you can be loving, you can be passionate and you can be kind.’’
When one particularly willful child would not follow directions, Schalick explained the benefits of participating, gave him extra choices and offered positive reinforcement.
Among her proudest moments was gaining the trust of her first-graders.
“‘Who can say that they need something harder?’’’ she asked, repeating a question she asked her students. ‘Or who can say that they have no idea how to do something?’ They always want to say, ‘I can do it all and I don’t need help.’ But I am proud of the fact that they can now say, ‘Miss Sarah, I have no idea how to do this. I need more help. I need more examples.’ And it is good because they can be honest with themselves and they can self-regulate.”
Eugene Sanders will apply that advice as a newly minted teacher. After spending the fall semester as a student-teacher of special needs at Cactus Wren Elementary in the Washington District, he will start the spring semester as the teacher of record in the same classroom at Cactus Wren.
“One thing I have taken from GCU is, ‘don’t be afraid to ask for help,’’’ he said.
LaPrade reminded her new teachers of “The Promise’’ — a guarantee that GCU will assist any teacher graduate experiencing difficulty in their first year of teaching. It can be as simple as reaching out via email or a phone call to meeting with a faculty member to map out strategy over coffee to inviting a faculty member for a classroom observation.
“Some of your schools and districts will have great induction programs and others will not have as many resources,’’ LaPrade said. “Remember, you are not alone.’’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.