With the start of each semester, Eastern Mennonite University sends students ready to tackle the experience of student teaching into local elementary, middle, and high schools.
Their experiences vary based on the environment, but most student teachers face difficulties, challenges, and joys in their respective experiences.
EMU works to prepare students for the challenges of student teaching. “I felt very prepared because of the quality of EMU’s program, especially in the planning and logistical areas,” says Alli Eanes. Eanes is an EMU Senior teaching at South River Elementary. She has talked to student teachers from other schools and re- marks on how well-prepared EMU students seem compared to those of other universities in the area. Student teaching en- tails more than just preparation. It involves creativity, thinking fast on one’s feet, and a level of self- awareness not common to other internship or pre-employment experiences that other college students face. Jenna Longenecker, a Senior teaching elementary art at Smithland Elementary, reflects on the challenges of her teaching experience. “Teaching boils down to this: helping kids solve problems that they may or may not be interested in solving.” From the student’s perspective, many of the activities teachers place in front of them hold no significance outside the walls of the school. Longenecker recognizes this as an issue, and suggests that this dilemma speaks for teaching as an art form. “There’s a difference between theory and practice,” she says. “On the practice side, we’re dealing with people, and every person varies.” Finding a way to cater to the unique learning styles of twenty-five individuals in a classroom is no easy task. Both Eanes and Longenecker recognize the task of a teacher is to serve the needs of each individual student. Eanes told a story about a student that resonated with this point. She found that a student who did not normally enjoy writing wrote page after page one day because she told him that he could deviate slightly from the prompt and write about a topic he felt passionate about. This young boy expanded his knowledge about writing in general because of a simple shift in the con- tent towards an area that intrigued him. The semester is not over yet, so the student teachers on EMU’s cam- pus will continue teaching and learning until the end of the semester. Some of the student teachers will travel to new schools, new class- rooms, and new environments. Most will come out with a new or changed perspective on the art of teaching. On asking both Eanes and Longenecker if they have grown thus far, both nodded emphatically. “I see that teachers definitely need to have a sense of confidence,” says Eanes. Longenecker, in trying to serve her students, has struggled with the balance of structure and creativity in her classes. She says about teaching, “I think I now see that structure is perhaps the basis for creativity.”