Alexa Weeks, senior education major at Eastern Mennonite University, teaches in Leatrice Woods' third-grade class at Smithland Elementary School in Harrisonburg, Virginia. (Photos by Andrew Strack)

Becoming a teacher at EMU: Alexa Weeks ’18 shares challenges and rewards

Senior Alexa Weeks talks about the challenges and rewards of student-teaching, including one small change that led to deeper relationships with her students.

Alexa taught third grade at Smithland Elementary School and fifth grade at Stone Spring Elementary School, both in Harrisonburg City School District.

She came to EMU with an interest in teaching, and says that the opportunity to spend time in a classroom during her first year of college helped to confirm that decision.

She hopes to teach in the Harrisonburg area after graduation.

Learn more about EMU’s education program.

How did you grow as a teacher through this experience?

When I first started teaching lessons, I was very nervous. All eyes were on me and what I was saying had to make enough sense for students to meet a specific goal. It was a lot of pressure! After I taught a couple of lessons and students started talking back to me (instead of staring), everything changed. In order for this to happen, I had to find this confidence that I was lacking. It’s definitely an area growth that I’m still trying to completely figure out!

What were some challenges of your experience?

There have been times this semester where I was completely stuck and didn’t know what to do. As a teacher I know that some days will be great and others will be extremely rough, but I had to think about the end goal and think back to those second- and third-year education classes to figure out a solution! Remembering that it’s my job to make learning as fun as possible for these students always makes it a little easier.

Can you share a highlight from your classroom experience?

During my first student-teaching placement with third-graders, we had daily “Morning Meetings” for about 15 minutes. When I first started doing morning meetings, I was really just going through the motions and was giving students that opportunity to talk and say kind things to one another. This worked well for a long time, but then I realized that I could be using these 15 minutes to get to know these students and have these students get to know me. So I made one simple change (that I learned an EMU education class) and it changed the tone of the rest of our school days.

Alexa Weeks teaches a lesson at Smithland Elementary School in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Every morning, I’d ask the kids to show me how they’re feeling with their fingers on a scale of 1-5, with 1 meaning that they’re not feeling like their best self today and a 5 that they’re happy about something and feeling really good. After they held up their number, students were able to share. At first, students would just share really silly things like “I’m feeling like a 2 because I got my hair cut and I don’t like it.” But when we got into a routine and we started to trust each other in this space, students would really open up.

There was one student that felt like a 1 or 2 every single day, and whenever it was his turn to share, he would just pass. During one of my last weeks there, he shared that he felt “like a 1 because I was bullied today.”

This was huge! It was really sad and I felt horrible and knew that this probably wasn’t the only time he was being bullied. But I was so happy that he felt safe enough to share this with his classmates. I got to see them rally behind him and show him so much love that day. This is something that I’ll take into any classroom that I walk into.

Did you feel prepared for the student teaching experience by your coursework and experiences at EMU? 

In the classroom with an EMU student-teacher.

Yes! After taking “Curriculum Block” my junior year, I was able to teach my first lessons in science, social studies and math. The course helped me understand the preparation that goes into teaching. I also learned specific strategies to keep my students engaged in the learning process. This class also made me use all of the classroom management skills that I had been taught.

Another class that has changed the way that I think about reading/writing/spelling in the classroom was our “Literacy Block.” I was given tool after tool to set up a successful literacy environment during these student-teaching placements. Both of these classes came with 7-week practicums.

Watch more videos about how EMU prepares teacher candidates.