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Students teach to learn
Stacy Laue
Antelope Staff
Photo by Heidi England
UNK senior Jenna Britten reads a book to local elementary students at Meadowlark school.

So many different decisions and influences can affect the career a student takes.

Some students have known they wanted to be teachers since they were born, while others make the decision later in their lives.

Beth Alt, a senior middle school math and special education major from Scribner always knew she wanted to be a teacher. “My parents are both educators and showed me how great teaching is and how it can impact a student’s life,” she said.

Alt learned about her student teaching assignment during the last week of April. Currently student teaching in Omaha, she says she is learning so much from the experience.

“I have only worked with one of my cooperating teachers so far, but she is incredible and very helpful,” Alt said.

Alt began her student teaching experience on Aug.14 when her school started the new year. She is student teaching in special education classes first and will soon be transitioning to a middle school math classroom.

“One of the best things about student teaching so far is interacting with the students,” Alt said.

After graduating in December, Alt hopes to find a teaching job right away or substitute teach until she does.

While student teaching gives future teachers valuable experience in the classroom, there are a few new teachers who never student teach before entering the classroom.

Heather Garrelts teaches a junior/senior Shakespeare class, a junior speech class and honors speech class and a 9-12 reading improvement course at Lexington High School.

Garrelts never student taught, but actually began her career two years ago on a provisional teaching license.

In order to teach on a provisional teaching license, a teacher must have a bachelors degree or higher in the particular field and must have completed 75 percent of the teaching requirements. The school district can then contract with the provisional teacher in the district in the specified content areas.

Garrelts’ decision to become a teacher came after she had all ready graduated college. “I was just interested in the fields of English and speech and had always wanted to be a teacher. I knew that I loved the subjects, could find a position and would be happy with this position for the better part of my life.”

Garrelts feels that she did not miss out from the experience attained in student teaching.

“My first semester of teaching was basically trial and error, just like it would have been in student teaching.” This path might not be for every student, Garrelts said. “However, I strongly believe that some people need the experience and practice necessary to be a teacher.”

Garrelt’s first year was filled with unexpected challenges. “I expected to go into the classroom and be perfect, have everything work my way and have students that loved me.  None of that happened my first semester.  I was starting from scratch in many classes, and had students who were trying to test me constantly,” she said.

With no mentor or cooperating teacher close by, Garrelts agrees it was a tough first year. “But in the long run I think it made me a stronger teacher,” she said.

Garrelts knows being a teacher a means being committed to the career and the students.

“People who go in to teaching because “someone said it was good money” or because they “get summers off,” in my opinion, are usually those that don’t last in the profession and should be in another field. You have to be dedicated to this career,” Garrelts said.

Garrelts is currently taking classes to finish her masters degree at UNK in Reading PK-12. She then hopes to earn her doctorate in speech communication. Her path was unique, and most teachers spend a full semester in the classroom learning the ropes before their first job.

 “Spending a complete semester within a school system helps student teachers understand the workings of the public schools within the community, the complex interactions of the entire staff and student learning and behavior from the other side of the desk,” said Dr. Susanne Bloomfield, a professor of English at UNK.  

Dr. Bloomfield teaches the English education methods courses required before the student teaching experience. Dr. Bloomfield has helped many future and current teachers further their education during her years at UNK.

“A teacher needs to enjoy working with students, but also have a passion for her subject,” Bloomfield said.

Alt says she has found her passion and is excited every day to teach in the classroom. For her, teaching is also learning. “There is always something new to learn,” she said.

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