The Voice: Winter 2001

The Voice

Education majors get teaching experience

Cary Bruin helps tutees weekly by Cara Miedema DeHaan

Education majors usually discover that Dordt has prepared them well to teach. But five seniors will have an added boost as they begin student teaching next semester. This past semester these students, along with two juniors, were teaching assistants in two Dordt courses: “ASK 050: Basic Mathematics for College Students” and “ASK 060: Basic Writing for College Students.”

Pam De Jong, who as director of the Academic Skills (ASK) Center is facilitating the developmental courses, says that although the courses arose from a concern that some freshmen were coming in under-prepared for college-level work, they were also designed to help secondary education students get teaching experience.

Three math education majors assisted instructor Dale Vander Wilt with ASK 050: seniors Cary Bruin and Jocelyn Van Vliet and junior Jodi Blauwkamp. Four English education majors worked with instructor Audrey Den Boer in ASK 060: seniors Bridget De Yager, Kim Kerkstra, and Sara Viss and junior Kelly Crull.

These students gained valuable experience, first of all, through observation in class. All seven students were expected to attend each class period, which gave them an opportunity to observe the instructor's teaching style.

“Watching Mr. Vander Wilt was definitely a plus,” Bruin said. “To see a different style of teaching helped me form my own opinions about how I want to do it in the classroom.”

Kerkstra agreed. “I liked what I saw,” she said regarding Den Boer's teaching methods. “On the other hand,” she acknowledged, “I did find myself critiquing at times.” Based on the education courses she has taken, Kerkstra sometimes had a different idea about how to present an idea or method. She used these opportunities to ask Den Boer about her pedagogical choices.

The TAs also met once a week with the instructors, meetings that introduced them to a new side of teaching: administration. The math TAs took attendance and helped Vander Wilt form lesson plans, grade assignments and tests, and make decisions on whether or not, for instance, to give a re-test.

“These things are not anything I've had to do before,” Bruin commented. “I'm glad I got to experience them before teaching on my own.” Kerkstra noted these planning sessions showed her that a lot of interaction among colleagues is important.

Another strength of the ASK course structure is that it gave the TAs an opportunity to get to know the students personally. Students were encouraged or required to meet with their TA each week, either individually or in small groups. Besides helping the TAs to identify more closely with the students' struggles, these weekly sessions also challenged them as teachers. “I kept asking, 'How do I get through to them?'” Bruin said.

Kerkstra commented, “It was neat to be able to encourage the students and give them concrete ways to improve their writing.” The one-on-one sessions also gave her the clearest indication of the students' improvement. “When I compare their first writing to what they're doing now, for most people, I'm very impressed.”

Five of the seven TAs were paid for their work, one did it on a volunteer basis, and Kerkstra chose to structure her participation as a service-learning project. She was required to write regular journal entries and do outside readings, as well as write short response papers and a larger reflective essay.

“I already had a job, so I couldn't be a TA for workstudy,” Kerkstra said. “But doing it for credit forced me to reflect.”

De Jong, who read and graded Kerkstra's work, is hoping that in upcoming semesters more students will follow Kerkstra's lead. “Not only do we not have money in our budget to continue paying students as TAs,” De Jong said, “I've also seen that the reflection required for service learning projects deepens an experience. All of the TAs have learned valuable things, but Kim has taken that knowledge to another level.”

From all reports, the teaching assistants found their experiences very valuable. “I got into it to prepare for student teaching,” Bruin said, “and it's been a great experience.”

Vander Wilt spoke favorably of the experience from an instructor's perspective. “It's been like team-teaching. I've enjoyed the TAs' input, and I'm learning, too!” He mentioned a math memory aid Blauwkamp had taught him and alternate teaching strategies the TAs had suggested. “They've worked beyond the call of duty. I've seen a lot of growth, not only in confidence but also in understanding students: how to motivate them, how to compliment them, how to help them. My TAs aren't scared anymore.”

Not only are they not scared, but the TAs are starting to sound like teachers. “I learned about the writing process from a teacher's perspective what students struggle with, how to make it fun,” Kerkstra said. And Bruin learned about emotional attachment. “You just want to give the students an A for effort. But you can't always do that,” she said. Blauwkamp, who plans to continue as TA next semester, was feeling an educator's excitement. “We can see the students are learning stuff. From an education point of view, it's fun to see faces light up.”

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