Education students learn from leading classrooms
In the Fall 2021 semester, 30 Concordia students have embarked on their student teaching experiences, where they complete an eight-week placement in each quarter of the semester. Typically in the second placement, 75% of students request a distant placement, where they have an opportunity to learn and live in a different part of the country.
“It’s a wonderful and unique opportunity for young teachers to see another area of the country and experience a school setting outside of the Seward area, without committing to moving permanently,” Dr. Beth Pester, director of student teaching, said. “Having a placement system that offers students an opportunity to go outside of the area is a great confidence builder in young teachers, as they head to a different and often more diverse area of the country to work with fantastic schools and cooperating teachers and thrive in new locations.”
Matthew Boll, a senior from Ham Lake, Minnesota, had his first placement at St. John Lutheran School in Seward, and his second at Seward High School–teaching physical education at both schools.
“My favorite part of student teaching is just being able to be a part of a classroom and get to know the students,” Boll said. “Each class is different with a different dynamic and community. The relationships that are built with each student and class are so much fun.”
Boll, who is serving as a wheeled vehicle mechanic in the Nebraska Army National Guard, said he was surprised about his teaching style once he arrived in the classroom.
“I thought I was going to be somewhat strict and by the book because of my past experiences and my military background,” he said, “but it turns out that I am still a little strict, but also flexible.”
In his first placement, Boll was still able to report for his military service, but he’ll have to miss about a week and a half of his second placement.
“I try to do my best to balance them, but in the end, duty comes first,” he said.
Through student teaching, Boll said he has gained invaluable experience and confidence for when he leads his own classroom.
“It gave me the experience of having to teach the whole day and having the students see me as their teacher, while still having my cooperating teacher around to help, support and give me advice in a safe environment where I was able to try new things,” he said.
Jessica Esterberg, a senior from Brandon, South Dakota, is an aircraft fuel systems mechanic in the South Dakota Air National Guard. At the end of the Spring 2021 semester, she began active duty, spending several months in Georgia to support the missions of her unit in the southern United States.
Both of Esterberg’s student teaching placements have been local, with her first in an eighth-grade classroom at Emmanuel-Faith Lutheran School in York, Nebraska; and her second in a seventh-and-eighth-grade social studies class at Raymond Central High School, in Raymond, Nebraska.
“Both Concordia and my unit have been so wonderful in working with my schedule as an Airman and college student,” she said. “My schedule, though ever-changing, is very rigid and I cannot imagine succeeding as well the past four years if they were not so graceful and flexible with me.”
In her first placement, Esterberg was in a self-contained eighth-grade classroom of 10 students, the same setting she envisioned for herself in the future. As she continued in the placement, she realized how challenging it can be to teach different subjects throughout the day, especially when she had not taken some of those subjects herself since high school.
“It was definitely different than anything I’d ever experienced,” she said. “Teaching every subject all day was certainly challenging — I was learning the students, processes and content. I couldn’t have imagined anything better for those eight weeks, however. I was blessed with so much support, and I took advantage of the resources provided, and found some more even, to learn all that I could before teaching these students and helping them be successful in their own ways.
During her experiences, Esterberg has seen first-hand some of the lessons she learned in her Concordia classes, especially when it comes to building relationships with students and fellow staff.
“Schools are made for learning, growth, and development,” Esterberg said, “but they are filled with people – people with different experiences, skill sets, strengths, weaknesses, ways of thinking, new ideas, but all loved and created by God. I knew the whole person was important in education, but it surprised me just how real that was. We all have so much to bring to the table, so much to learn from each other. I am continuously learning from the staff supporting me through my experience and also the students I am so blessed to work with.”
Bridgette Nichols, a senior from Crete, Nebraska, completed her first placement in kindergarten at Fredstrom Elementary School in Lincoln and her second placement in third grade at Immanuel Lutheran School in Memphis, Tennessee.
She said her favorite part of student teaching has been the ability to work with a variety of different students who have individualized needs.
“Teaching is a very rewarding career, so having the opportunity to support students in multiple aspects, and then watch them succeed, is one of the best parts of teaching,” she said.
Growing up in Crete, a town of about 7,000, Nichols said the opportunity to teach in a large school in Memphis, allowed her to experience a new culture with a much more diverse population.
“I also got to be in a public school during my first student teaching, and then a private Lutheran school for my second placement,” she said. “This really gave me the opportunity to teach in a variety of different cultures and settings. I got to implement some of the culturally-responsive teaching strategies that I may not have had the opportunity to do in Seward. Having the ability to experience both private and public schools to give me a better idea of what kind of school I could see myself at in the future is one of the most beneficial things about Concordia’s student teaching opportunities.”
By receiving feedback from her cooperating teachers, principals and Concordia professors, Nichols said she has a better understanding of expectations as she gets ready to lead her own classroom.
“I was able to get this feedback from a variety of people who genuinely want me to be successful,” she said. “Each person gave me feedback on the things I did well, and they also gave me some suggestions on what to continue to practice. I appreciated all of it because it was coming from other successful teachers who have been teaching for years. I learned a lot about what I can expect in my future career as a teacher.”
Sarah Ragland, a senior from Rocky River, Ohio, completed her first placement at Southeast High School in Lincoln, where she taught algebra, algebra support and pre-college algebra. Her second placement is at Metro-East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville, Illinois, teaching biology, algebra and pre-calculus.
Her favorite part of those experiences, she said, is the opportunity to build relationships with her students and cooperating teachers, because of the longer-term placement as opposed to field experiences and practicum hours.
“During the first few days of teaching the same students, I was able to build better relationships with them than I did during any of my field experiences,” she said. “It was also really great to work with the teachers in the math department at Southeast. We had PLC days where I could get the opportunity to plan with the other algebra teachers and it was encouraging to hear these veteran teachers have similar struggles that I was having in my classes.”
Ragland, a thrower on Concordia’s track and field team, has balanced her student teaching with her athletic commitments by practicing with fellow student-teachers who are also throwers.
“We have been able to hold each other accountable to put in the work, even though we are busy,” she said. “From the beginning, Coach Ed McLaughlin has also been very flexible with our schedules and sends us workouts and a lifting program that we can get done on our own time.”
Through her experiences, Ragland has gained a better understanding of the whole process of being a teacher. In both placements, she has written and taught lessons and has also been connected to each school’s online school systems, where she takes attendance, inputs grades and completes the behind-the-scenes tasks that sometimes are overlooked as part of the job.
“It has also helped to equip me to prepare with different student behaviors,” she said. “For example, if a student is sleeping during class, or misusing their technology, or coming in late to class on a regular basis or anything else that might happen in a classroom that you really can’t prepare for, but student teaching is a great opportunity to be in charge of your own classroom while still being supported by cooperating teachers and professors who continuously offer feedback to help you grow into the best teacher you can be.”