The Voice: Winter 2001
Future teachers serve area schools
by Sally Jongsma
A new practicum in the education department is putting students in a serving role in area schools. Education 241, Service Learning Field Experience, is replacing Education 204, the
practicum that in the past required students to spend forty hours observing classrooms in schools of their choice during their sophomore year.
The change is the result of work by Professor Lloyd Den Boer, who is responsible for the second field experience. It was motivated largly because of Iowa Department of Education concerns that the existing practicum was not sufficiently connected to specific courses. Den Boer is coordinating the program with assistance from education faculty Barb Hoekstra and Jenny Van Ry, who help orient the students and respond to journal entries.
Den Boer says the old course did have one real advantage for students. Students could arrange to do their forty-hour practicum in their hometowns during one of Dordt's breaks. This was a significant benefit to an education program that operates in a rural setting with a limited number of schools in which to place students.
Education 204 has already been in the process of changing for the past couple of years to better meet Department of Education guidelines. The initial idea of arranging two-and-a-half or five-hour placements in classrooms in connection with specific college education classes would have put more pressure than ever on the relationship with local schools.
We would have had to make too many contacts with the schools, says Den Boer all for our benefit. So the department began to ask how it could accomplish its goal and serve the schools. The department came up with the service learning model. The new practicum will be linked to three required courses in the education program Educational Psychology, Multi- Cultural Issues in Education, and Introduction to Special Education.
The issues that come up in these classes come up in almost every classroom, says Den Boer.
Den Boer met with many area principals to determine their need for students to come in on a regular basis to work with a specific teacher or class. He then went to the registrar to see if Tuesday and Thursday mornings could be made available for education students to spend two and a half hours in a school. The cooperation from both sources was great, Den Boer says. Scheduling was arranged and as soon as schools were invited to participate, he was flooded with more applications for help than he could fill. In fact, this year he was only able to fill about half of the requests. However, he expects to do better in the future when all students must participate. At present students who enrolled under the old curriculum still have the option of choosing that arrangement.
Den Boer is not surprised that many are still choosing the old route. It not only requires fewer hours spent in schools, it is a bit less risky and has fewer expectations attached. Students in the new program, on the other hand, will have experiences that will help them feel more comfortable in the classroom once they've finished, Den Boer believes.
The new program still allows students to express preferences about where they will be placed, but the opportunities for learning are greater because each student is usually more involved in classroom activities. And Den Boer hopes that as students hear about challenging but positive experiences, they will also see it as a change for the better. At present a number of students are placed in inner city schools in Sioux City or in rural schools with increasing numbers of minority students.
Rachel Vander Plaats and Lisa Van Driessen are working in elementary schools in Sioux City. Cultural diversity, student poverty, and the lack of resources are apparent. Both students work with small groups of students, often those with limited proficiency in English.
Some Dordt students have not experienced diversity or poverty, says Den Boer. This gives them the opportunity to do so in a fairly safe way since they're not in charge yet.
Mike Jacobs works in a split fifth/sixth grade classroom at Ireton Christian. He observes the teacher and answers questions from students in one grade while the teacher is teaching the other grade. He also leads devotions and some classroom activities.
The fun that I experience in the classroom and the joy I get when a student grasps a new concept confirms God's calling for me to be a teacher, Jacobs says. Education 241 has given me a chance to study the classroom from the inside out.
One of Jacobs' biggest challenges but also best learning opportunities has been working with a student with ADHD. Sometimes I think I learn more than he does. I learn patience and how to see things from his perspective. Jacobs is also facing issues like how to balance where he focuses his attention whether he should help one student who may need extensive help or wander around to help many students.
Through the new field experience, Den Boer believes students will see that issues discussed in their education classes are real.
Jacobs already feels that is happening. The Education 241 experience has given me a chance to practice and explore what I am learning in my other education classes, he says.
I am very impressed by what students are learning, says Den Boer. They are learning by observing good teaching. They are learning by doing. They are learning by bumping into things they would do differently if they were in charge of the classroom.
One faculty member has mentioned to Den Boer that she notices the 241 students are making excellent contributions to class discussions. Den Boer expects students to continue to become more comfortable in a variety of settings through the experience. And as important as anything else, he hopes that the new program will benefit the children Dordt students serve, children who are often in classrooms where the teacher must concentrate on cultural issues and making sure students know the English language, as well as teach the regular curriculum.