Confession time: when I was little, one of my favorite afternoon activities was “playing school.” I’d create homework and report cards for my students, and before I learned to write in cursive, I’d just write in squiggly lines to fill pages of assignments and then assign random grades to them in red felt pen.
If your love of school caused you to engage in similar types of playtime, perhaps you’re cut out for a career in education. But beware—it takes more than wielding a red pen to make a successful teacher. Guest writer Sarah Li Cain investigates what it’s like to attend teacher’s college and why this isn’t the place to go if you’re hoping to hide in the back of the classroom.
Considering going to teacher’s college? First of all, forget the sterile lecture halls you might be accustomed to. You know, the ones with over 300 students where the professor lectures, and all you’re expected to do is take notes.
Sure, sitting through classes like these might be helpful to those who need to digest a lot of information, but does it really serve those who are entering a more hands-on type career, like teaching?
Going to teacher’s college is a slightly different experience from some other types of higher education. Not only do you get outside the lecture room, you have the chance to see what it’s like to be on the other side of the classroom.
What can you expect in the teacher’s college classroom?
Obviously, you’ll have to take education courses. Depending on what you want to teach, courses can vary greatly. M. Shannon Hernandez, author and professor at Brooklyn College, explains, “It really depends on what students are specializing in for their teaching certification. I teach in the grade 7–12 Science Education department, so students have already focused on a science for their undergraduate degrees.”
Some courses help to refresh your memory of concepts you may have already learned, while others may be dedicated to more relevant topics that you might be teaching to your future students.
Another differentiator would be what level you want to teach, which is what some colleges call methods courses. Given the fact that teaching five-year-olds might be slightly different from teaching high school students, it makes sense that courses would be divided according to the age levels you will be teaching.
While you might be taking courses, don’t expect them all to be just lectures. Rosemarie Bugenis, a current student enrolled at Brooklyn College, explains that you can’t just sit back and relax. You’re preparing to go into a classroom as a teacher. You’ll most likely be expected to lead some of the activities or give presentations.
Bugenis adds that her education courses “were helpful in introducing me to what I am expected to do in a classroom. I also appreciate how education courses are stressing that we help all students—such as those with special needs—who are in all of our classrooms.”
Courses at the college go over content of what you would be teaching and the expectations you’ll have once you step inside your own classroom.
What is teacher placement like?
According to Professor Hernandez, the majority of students have to go out and find their own placements. In general, you’re responsible for going to schools for interviews and finding your placement, but if you’re having a hard time finding a good match because of your content area or your location, your professor may be able to assist you with some introductions and contacts at other schools.
Professor Hernandez encourages students “to get to know what the school is like by spending time in a school; interview the principal and vice principal and take a tour to see what it’s like.” This way, you can find one that suits your requirements—and something you’ll be happy with.
Once your placement is all set up, you get to observe what teachers do so that you can learn tips and tricks you can put into practice when teaching and managing your own classroom.
Bugenis spent a full year attending a science class and acting as if she were an actual student. This experience helped her develop an idea of what types of content were being in taught in her local schools. She also requested to be in an English Language Learners (ELLs) class so she could see how difficult science topics are broken down for newcomers to the US. She got to see various methods the teachers used to help with the students’ learning.
This year, she is in an Integrated Co-Teaching class where more than one teacher oversees the class. She is observing how the two teachers work together, and she will eventually co-teach. She says the environment is “perfect for me to observe classroom management” because it’s a lively class held in the middle of the day.
With her teaching placements, Bugenis noticed that “there are subjects in the high school curriculum that were covered briefly or not at all in my graduate science courses. However, much was covered in depth in my graduate courses that was not even mentioned in the two classes of my full year of observation.” So even though you learn what types of content to teach in your education courses, you might not cover them all in an actual classroom. She also mentions that her host teachers have different personalities and styles, which is great for observing different classroom techniques and strategies.
What are some challenges you might face in this program?
Because Bugenis was an older student, she felt that she was behind her classmates in her chemistry program at teacher’s college. She also noted that some of her professors weren’t always clear on expectations and feedback in coursework for the teacher’s college program. She says that “some of my coursework was not returned, and I was disappointed to have had no feedback on some important assignments.” She also hopes that in the future, any requirements and changes in coursework are in writing and made clear. Prepare to be proactive—you may need to seek out your professors to get feedback or clarify what’s being asked of you.
Anything else you need to know?
Bugenis suggests that once you’re enrolled in a program, meet with your advisor who can help you plan what courses you will need to take and when to take them.
She also highly suggests considering your current schedule. If you have a job or a family to take care of, this will affect the amount of energy you can put into your coursework. She suggests trying to “take one course one term and see if you are able to put much of your energy into your coursework without negatively affecting your family, health, or job. If you are satisfied with your performance, you might try to take two courses the next semester. Hopefully this will enable you to learn your chosen teaching topic thoroughly, so as to be prepared for your certification exams and to be a good teacher.”
Last, but not least, Professor Hernandez wants you to know that experience is the best teacher. She says “Management tips, how to relate to students using humor, etc. are all things that can’t be taught, effectively, out of the classroom.”
Even though teacher’s college can prepare you well for a career in education, you need to get out there and gain some experience before you really feel ready to call yourself a good teacher.
Homework time! Think you might like to be a teacher? Be sure to spend time shadowing different people in the education field before you commit to one particular profession. If you’re seriously considering teacher’s college, be sure to speak to graduates of that program (or a similar one) before you apply to decide if it’s a good fit for you.
Sarah Li Cain is an author and business copywriter who helps education and tech companies with marketing materials. She is currently expanding her clientele and is available for hire. Visit her website to see how she can help you.