I Want to Teach, But Not in the Classroom
Nabors, Martha L
Kevin wanted to teach fourth grade but was placed in a sixth-grade classroom during his student-teaching semester. He became disillusioned with the public schools and the need to be a constant disciplinarian. After graduating from a teacher-education program and becoming certified in elementary education, he still was interested in teaching but could not find a position. he used the Internet to search for an alternative teaching position. As a result of a long and time-consuming search, he found and accepted a position as the Curriculum Coordinator at a nonprofit state aquarium.
As Curriculum Coordinator, he not only develops curriculum for teachers and children who use the aquarium as a field teaching site, but also teaches hands-on lessons to students when they visit the aquarium. Kevin really enjoys what he is doing because he is able to use all the knowledge and skills that he learned in his teacher-education program. Discipline is no longer the main concern of his teaching instruction. Kevin reminds new graduates that all types of teaching positions are available; individuals just have to make the right contacts.
Nontraditional Field Placements
Nontraditional field placements may be appealing to teacher candidates who want to teach outside of the regular classroom. These placements provide opportunities to engage students in meaningful activities that focus on a teacher candidate’s unique talents or life experiences.
Teacher candidates in these settings still are required to complete all the assigned tasks that an individual in a regular classroom experience must complete. These assignments include planning, gathering materials, implementation of the plan, evaluation, and assessment. Though the planning may deviate from the standard lesson plan format, the tasks, nonetheless, must be comprehensive, complete, and approved by a college supervisor.
Bires and Naugle (1997) described how teacher candidates were involved in a nontraditional setting in the McKeever Environmental Learning Center in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania. Teacher candidates were pursuing degrees in a variety of fields, including elementary education, environmental education, early childhood education, agricultural education, and related fields of study in biology, science, and environmental studies. This was a residential experience coupled with eight weeks of field experiences in a formal classroom setting. Teacher candidates studied and taught in a variety of projects, including Project Learning Tree and Sharing Nature with Children. They were provided opportunities to work with elementary students from a variety of settings, including rural, suburban, and urban environments. In an average eight-week period, teacher candidates worked with as many as 10-15 school districts. Such experiences allowed teacher candidates to be prepared to develop new approaches to teaching outside the traditional classroom.
Blakemore, Hawkes, Wilkinson, Zanandrea, and Harrison (1997) reported on a different type of nontraditional teacher preparation in their study focusing on physical education teachers. The “Flight” program at Brigham Young University merged traditional components of teacher preparation with other components that are not usually found in existing programs. One of the research components of the study highlighted a major challenge: “Preservice teachers must be able to transpose university theory to the setting and needs of the school system” (Blakemore et. al. 1997, 61). The results of this study confirmed the expectations that it “takes a number of field experiences for students to become socialized into the teaching experience and to gain the skills needed to achieve success in their teaching” (Blakemore et al. 1997, 65).
Rosenberg, Jackson, and Yeh (1996) examined the needs of mature, nontraditional preservice education candidates and determined that these specific candidates require preparation programs that are different than those used to prepare younger students. Rosenberg et al. (1996, 334) identified five types of field experiences as alternatives to the traditional practicum: “(a) infusion of practicum experiences with content courses, (b) traditional practicum experiences offered during the summer session, (c) working practica, (d) roving practica, and (e) specialized practica.” As a result of this study, the authors identified a “number of field-based alternatives to the traditional practicum, and [argued] that these alternatives, singly or in combination, can provide growth opportunities that can be better suited to the needs of nontraditional students” (Rosenberg et al. 1996, 337). They further argued that the “delivery of individually planned practica for nontraditional students will require that teacher educators rethink how field-based activities are conceptualized and supported” (Rosenberg et al. 1996, 339).
Willard-Holt and Bottomley (2000) investigated the relationship between preservice teachers’ “reflectivity and effectiveness in a unique field experience known as Kids’ College. Kids’ College provided a supportive forum in which preservice teachers could implement innovations in a multiage environment. These innovations included complete ownership of the conceptual development, planning, preparation, implementation, and evaluation of their teaching” (Willard-Holt and Bottomly 2000, 76). The authors reported that preservice teachers experienced ownership of their practica and were able to internalize the lessons they learned through their own reflection. As a result, they were able to act immediately upon those insights. The researchers concluded that when students are provided with field experiences in which reflection, innovation, and ownership are combined, teachers are more likely to be effective, up-to-date, and habitually reflect on their efforts to improve learning for children.
Grisham, Laguardia, and Brink (2000) reported on their successful implementation of a second field experience during a full year of student teaching for five of their graduate preservice teachers. These preservice teachers were provided “enhanced supervision” and participation in collaborative inquiry and discourse. The yearlong experience included clustering, on-site literacy classes, teacher study groups and action research, a steering committee of a deliberative body that oversaw studentteaching field experiences, and a second experience. During the second phase of the project, preservice teachers designed their own experience. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers asked the question: “How does this study connect with other professional development school projects and the findings from similar projects?” Among the conclusions drawn from this study, the researchers found support for transforming field experiences for beginning teachers to elevate these teachers to positions as contributing participants or coteachers instead of the regular subordinate positions these students usually experience.
Remember Kevin, the teacher who is now teaching in a state aquarium? he would have benefited greatly by the experiences offered at San Diego State University. Gallego (2001) described a three-year study in which preservice teachers were involved in a project that coupled classrooms and community-based field experiences. The classroom field experience was a regular placement where students observed, assisted in management, and taught lessons in their methods courses. The school included culturally and linguistically diverse students, but there was no formal curriculum to address children’s native language abilities other than English. The community field experience was offered as an afternoon program in a multicultural working-class neighborhood. Participants in this placement site were encouraged to use language resources and were provided guide sheets that contained both Spanish and English to support the vocabulary of the children.
Preservice teachers reported that these experiences in contrasting settings were “instrumental in their understanding the multiple sources of influence that create both opportunities and constraints to teaching and learning at each site” (Gallego 2001, 312). Had Kevin had the benefit of such diverse placements during his studentteaching semester, he may have developed even more skills for using his talents as curriculum coordinator and teacher.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Keeping in mind the alternative experiences available to preservice teachers, we now examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of both types of placement. We have found that there are both advantages and disadvantages to placing teacher candidates in traditional settings. Among the advantages, traditional placements:
* lead to exposure to the traditional world of teaching;
* provide more exposure to children’s families;
* give focus to the totality of the teaching experience; and
* make clear connections between school and the political process.
Included among the disadvantages of traditional field experiences are:
* too many hours for the working student;
* tight restrictions on the timeframe for completing requirements;
* transportation issues surrounding distance between home and school; and
* limited exposure to other teaching settings.
Among their advantages, nontraditional field placements:
* allow for flexibility in the timeframe to complete requirements;
* give insight on how children behave outside the four walls of a classroom;
* challenge teacher candidates to tailor-make their lesson plans for children in unique and different educational settings; and
* provide teacher candidates with clear examples of the connection between teaching and service to the community.
Among their disadvantages, nontraditional field placements:
* create insecurity about being in a setting outside of the safety of a school building;
* require teacher candidates to work late some afternoons and evenings in unfamiliar neighborhoods;
* prohibit teacher candidates from seeing the end product of their efforts; and
* pose challenges when working with adults because participants were trained to work with children.
Opportunities for Nontraditional Teaching
Some nontraditional field experiences can provide learning opportunities to meet the needs of teacher candidates who do not want to teach in the regular classroom, but want job opportunities where they can teach with an education degree. Following are examples of nontraditional teaching positions available to those teacher candidates seeking alternative teaching employment:
* Textbook sales representatives
* Sales representatives for publishers of children’s books
* Editors and developmental editors for publishing companies
* Not-for-profit state agencies, such as museums and aquariums
* City, state, and national Parks and Recreation Departments
* Department of Health and Environmental Control/ Education programs
* Department of Natural Resources and other federal agencies
* Private and public zoos
* YMCA/YWCA education programs
* City, state, and national Public Works Departments
* Private and public industries/training programs
* Adult literacy programs
Alternative teaching positions must be considered a possibility for graduates of teacher-education programs. In fact, a review of the literature clearly indicates that alternative preservice placement sites are desirable and are being offered in schools of education around the country. If teacher educators are to meet the needs of teacher candidates and prepare them for teaching positions outside the regular classroom, programs must plan and offer alternative placement experiences that open opportunities for developing a unique, wide range of skills that can be used either “in” or “out” of the regular classroom.
Copyright Kappa Delta Pi Spring 2004
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