By Hattie Bernstein
“I said Auburn, with K through eight, would be a great site,” said Cathy Stavenger, an associate professor in SNHU’s School of Education, recalling a conversation she had with Auburn Principal Ron Pedro. “They have the younger students and the middle school without leaving the building.”
Indeed, SNHU School of Education students who did their field work at the school also took classes there, taught by third-grade teacher Gail Boucher, an SNHU adjunct instructor.
Field work programs like the one in Auburn are more common in other parts of the country, particularly the South, where they are fostered in professional development school partnerships, Stavenger says.
In New Hampshire, “it’s rarer than we’d like it to be,” she says.
Learning All Around
A field work program is a collaborative effort: A school becomes a learning center for future teachers, while teachers and staff mentor the college students. Everyone benefits.
Children receive additional attention and tutoring from teachers in training, veteran teachers share their experiences and learn from the college professors who hold classes in the school, and the school community gets an infusion of new ideas.
In Auburn, SNHU education majors assessed students, made recommendations for enrichment or remediation, and provided one-on-one tutoring as “Math Buddies.”
“It really is a partnership,” says Pedro. “Never once have I thought one partner is getting less.”
Learning by Doing
SNHU launches freshman education majors into the classroom almost as soon as they arrive on campus. By contrast, future teachers at other colleges too often have limited classroom experience before student teaching, at the end of their program, Stavenger says.
Education majors aren’t expected to sink or swim. From the beginning, they receive direction and support.
“I showed them, modeled it, and they did it,” Stavenger says. “We always talked at the next class: ’What happened? What did you try? What worked? What caused that problem?’”
Meanwhile, the successes were adding up.
Parents reported improvements in their children’s school work. Teachers said their students were reaping the benefits of an extra pair of hands in the classroom. And the college students were having fun.
“I love it! It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” says Jennifer Smith, an elementary education/special education major from Salem, Mass. “I went to a different school before SNHU, and I never had the experiences I’ve had here. Before, there was someone standing in front of you telling you how it was going to be. To get the experience is a totally different thing.”
Finding New Paths
Some SNHU students said they enrolled in the School of Education set on teaching a
particular grade, but during field work changed their minds.
“I was thinking kindergarten through first, but the last class I had with Gail Boucher made me think about the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade level,” says Jocelyn Ercha, a senior from Beverly, Mass.
Meanwhile, students at the K-8 school were also growing, and changing their minds about things.
“Two kids stick out in my mind,” says Smith, who worked one-on-one in a Math Buddies program that matched future students and third-graders. “When you work with the same kids, you see how they change.”
Danielle Daniele says her son, PJ, a third grader, changed his mind about math after working with a Math Buddy.
“He enjoys doing his homework now. He’s excited about learning,” the mother says. “His confidence level has really soared.”
Likewise, Boucher discovered an affinity for teaching college students that surprised and delighted her.
“I absolutely love it!” she says. “I share my real life experiences, give them copies of units I know kids love, cover the GLE’s (Grade Level Expectations).”
SNHU education majors say the School of Education has built success into the field work program, providing transportation and on-site classes in addition to the hands-on teaching experience.
“Field hours are included in classroom time. They set it up, so there’s no choice but to succeed,” says senior Emily Mongeau, an elementary education/special education major from Westborough, Mass.