Through the Teacher Education course in the Health and Human Services pathway, students at Spring Lake Park High School are student-teaching in classrooms across the district as they explore a career in education.
Ashley Stewart returned to Northpoint, where she began her education, to explore teaching as a potential career. Addy Lier is going deep with Spanish Immersion, and Kallie Nielsen is exploring a long-term interest in Special Education.
For students interested in teaching, gaining experience inside a real classroom further validates a choice for the future. For others, student-teaching is about testing out teaching to see if it’s a viable career path for them. Through Career and College Pathways courses at Spring Lake Park High School, students gain real-world teaching experience and even earn college credit along the way.
How it works, finding a match
Students in the yearlong Teacher Education elective course begin student-teaching in Trimester 2. They spend two days a week at their school sites and meet for small group discussions at the high school three days per week. Upon successful completion of the class, they can earn two college credits through the University of Minnesota.
Melanie Tuve is their guide. She teaches child development and teacher education. In her 16 years in Spring Lake Park Schools, she has also taught social studies and spent time as an instructional coach. She knows firsthand that most future educators don’t have the opportunity to student-teach until they are in college. That’s what makes these classes even more valuable for high schoolers.
“When we come together as a group at the high school, students are discussing what it means to be a teacher and why someone may teach, as well as who they are as learners,” says Melanie. “They discuss the profession through a variety of lenses – historical, social, cultural, political. They explore current issues in teaching today and discuss their student-teaching experiences in the classroom.”
Finding the right classroom fit is one part of the puzzle as student-teachers explore the career field. There are different grade levels, special education needs and primary languages to consider. Students take an initial survey to indicate preferences. Teachers throughout the district identify needs in their classroom. From there, students are placed in the best fit experience.
Expectations vs. reality
Students often have a vision of what student-teaching will be like. As with many
career fields, expectations can differ from reality.
“This is why this class is so eye-opening for them,” explains Melanie. “It is one of the first times they are in a professional setting once they enter the classroom student-teaching. It is exciting to get to discuss professionalism and help them develop these skills.”
Ashley returned to Northpoint, where she started her Spring Lake Park Schools journey back in kindergarten. She works alongside teacher Lisa Comstock, who leads a classroom of third and fourth graders. This is the first year that Lisa has had a high school level student-teacher, and admits she initially felt unsure about how much guidance a high schooler might need.
“Ashley came in so strong – jumped right in, read the kids and my cues, assimilating,” explains Lisa. “She's young enough where she's relatable. Every time she presents, the kids are starry-eyed. It's like she's a bridge between the younger generation and myself.”
In a short time, Lisa has observed how capable Ashley has become. After just a few weeks, she was already leading small group work and individual time with students. Since beginning in the classroom in January, Ashley has noted how much education has changed since she was in elementary school.
“It’s different than what I expected, for sure,” says Ashley. “I envisioned the ‘classic’ classroom; students all in desks facing the front in rows. At Northpoint, it's very different and personalized for each student.”
Immersed in education and Spanish
Addy has been following a Spanish immersion journey throughout her primary and secondary education, so it felt natural for her to be at Woodcrest Spanish Immersion Elementary. She has gone as far as one can go in world language at the high school, already completing Spanish 7.
“Starting my Spanish immersion journey in kindergarten was amazing. Now, I get to work with current kindergartners and watch them develop,” says Addy. “Some of them come in here not knowing any Spanish or how to read. Over time, I get to see just how much they can learn.”
It wasn’t until entering a classroom that Addy fully realized the additional roles a teacher takes on. She works alongside Lina Mraz, who has found Addy to be extra helpful in the classroom, stepping in to help students when needed, remaining positive, and serving as a good role model speaking exclusively in Spanish.
“Lina has shown me ways to manage a classroom environment,” says Addy. “My eyes have also been opened on how to use several activities and classroom materials to aid in learning.”
Called to Special Education
Kallie has been on a special assignment this year, working in a special education classroom. She has always had an interest in special education that has only grown with interactions she’s had with peers. She also raises a cat at home with special needs. She was already passionate about this path.
“I’ve talked with the high school special education teachers about how their jobs are different from general education. Special education teachers are always busy, and I admire how dedicated they are to their work,” says Kallie.
Being in a classroom environment has further solidified Kallie’s desire to pursue this career.
"My biggest takeaway is realizing how everyone just learns in different ways. These students are really capable of more than you may realize,” she says.
The future of teaching
Through the student-teaching experience, these high school students turned student-teachers are learning so much. They are developing strong collaboration and communication skills and expanding their critical thinking skills. They are learning to deeply self-reflect.
Melanie observes them developing empathy, gaining a variety of perspectives, looking beyond themselves to try to understand others and exploring the role of equity when working with diverse learners. It’s her ultimate goal.
I love the transition that occurs when students begin to see themselves as teachers and not just learners in the classroom. The students' perspectives on school expands so much during this class. They begin to look at their entire education in a new light. It is fun to watch them have ‘aha moments.’ They also gain so much empathy for their peers in their classes – where once they may have seen a behavior issue or resistance to learning – they now can see beyond those behaviors and see the whole person. Melanie Tuve, SLPHS teacher
Ashley will attend North Dakota State University on a track and field scholarship. While her current major is undecided, she thinks she may still want to pursue teaching. The biggest benefit of taking the course was trying out teaching as a career possibility.
Addy plans to attend Grand Canyon University for elementary education with a minor in Spanish. She does not yet know if she will teach Spanish, but that’s why she wanted to try out this immersion environment in high school.
Kallie will attend Anoka-Ramsey Community College as they have a special education transfer program. After two years, her plan is to transfer to St. Cloud State University to get a Master’s in Special Education.
Learn more about Spring Lake Park High School’s Career and College Pathways online.