By Faith San Felice
Community College Times
February 18, 2003
An interest in exploring the teaching career and a desire to make a difference in their communities motivated several community college students to participate in the Teaching Scholar Partnerships (TSP), a national pilot project supported by the National Science Foundation. The students, known as “Teaching Scholars”, shadow master K-12 educators to gain insight into the rewards and demands of the K-12 teaching profession. During the 2001-2002 academic year, 78 community college students participated in the TSP program. The Teaching Scholars represent a diverse group in terms of age, ethnicity, race and gender.
TSP encourages undergraduates in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics to serve as content resources in K-12 classrooms, and, in the process, consider teaching as a career option. The American Association of Community College (AACC), the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the Independent Colleges Office (ICO) collaborated to develop and support the TSP program at 28 two- and four-year colleges and universities. AACC is the lead organization in this three-year $2 million initiative.
Ten community colleges participating in TSP partnered with 25 elementary, middle and high schools in six states. The collaborative nature of TSP is a hallmark of the program. The college professors and K-12 teachers work together to provide “authentic” teaching experiences for the Teaching Scholars. Through seminars and firsthand experiences, the TSP program provides Teaching Scholars with the philosophical and the practical aspects of teaching and learning. The Teaching Scholars assist K-12 teachers in a variety of settings, in both inner city and rural schools.
Community college students serving as Teaching Scholars face demanding schedules. They meet with college faculty and K-12 teachers, attend seminars and lectures, prepare K12 lessons and participate actively in K-12 classrooms—some as much as 10 to 14 hours per week.
Teaching Scholar Cristina Hernandez, a former student at Cerritos College in California, was inspired by the level of support she received from the Cerritos College TSP team, including project director Sue Parsons, college mentor Jeff Bradbury, and K-12 mentor Tina Moskowitz and her Teaching Scholar cohort. “We are like family,” she said. Although she has transferred to California State University at Long Beach to complete her education degree, Cristina continues to call on her TSP “family” for support as she approaches student teaching.
TSP influences the students’ views of what makes a “good” teacher. “The teacher is someone that is there for you”, says Hernandez. “Be passionate about your job and show it every day,” says James Cherry, a former student at Delta College in Michigan. He added, “If you are enthusiastic and excited about teaching, your students will be enthusiastic and excited to learn.”
Former Delta College student Misako Johnson was overwhelmed when a high school science student expressed a desire to attend college after working with her, a goal previously considered unattainable. Cherry felt a similar sense of accomplishment after spending several hours working with middle school science students and watching them compete successfully in their school science fair.
Recognizing and appreciating the importance of individual success is a key aspect of teaching. Former Cerritos College student Martha Bello enjoys watching the “gotcha moments” that occurred during science activities, as the elementary students suddenly understood the day’s science concept. During his high school math presentations, Atilio Rosetti, a student at Orange Coast College in California, feels a sense of accomplishment when he watches “the students start to light up” as they begin to understand the different math concepts.
Teaching Scholars discovered that instilling a desire to learn is challenging at times.
In fact, many Teaching Scholars said that teaching is much more demanding than they thought. Classroom management and lack of student motivation were two of the most difficult aspects of teaching. Having the ability to connect with students and get them excited about learning is “a gift and a talent” says Rosetti. “Teaching is harder than it looks.”
“Just trying to get everyone’s attention” in a high school science classroom was difficult at times for Misako Johnson. Teaching Scholars Sarah McDaniel of Central Florida Community College and James Cherry voiced their frustration at the lack of parental involvement. “The family has so much impact on the students’ behavior,” says Sarah. She was “in shock” her first day in a middle school remedial math lab where she found the students’ negative attitudes “rather alarming”.
Changing students’ negative attitudes towards school is top priority for many Teaching Scholars. When asked how she will motivate students and make math more appealing, Sarah McDaniel plans to point out the practical applications and its relevance to everyday life. Cristina Hernandez and Martha Bello are concerned about the effects of math and science anxiety on elementary school students. They suggest that making learning fun and working as a team with students are two ways to combat school anxieties. Misako Johnson stresses the importance of including every student in classroom activities. “Leave no one out,” she says, “ If the students think teachers don’t care, they won’t care.”
Recognizing a child’s individual needs and abilities can also create a positive classroom atmosphere. Teaching Scholars learn that master teachers recognize and adapt to the individual characteristics of each student and each classroom. According to Martha Bello, it is important for teachers to have “good listening skills and a good understanding of children”. Teachers do not have “cookie-cutter classrooms - each one is different. You can’t laminate your lesson plans. They have to change with the students,” says Bello. “Be open to change and willing to learn from your students,” adds Cristina Hernandez.
A willingness to collaborate, an ability to adapt to change, a love of learning, a positive outlook and a sense of fun are some of the essential traits of a master teacher that 78 community college students witnessed firsthand during their experiences in the Teaching Scholar Partnerships project. As a result of their work in TSP, several of the Teaching Scholars from the 2001-2002 academic year are planning to continue their studies in education, working towards an elementary or secondary teaching credential. It is clear from their words that the Teaching Scholars enjoyed spending time, and making a difference, in their local schools.