With the proximity of the University of Georgia, student teachers are a common sight in the classrooms of Cedar Shoals High School.
Every year, Cedar receives an influx of college and graduate students who work closely with their assigned teacher mentors to gain experience and skills that can be applied when they take charge of their own future classrooms.
“The beauty of this internship is that it is embedded in reality,” said Dr. Mary Bradbury-Bailey, Science Department Chair, who mentored new science staff member, Dr. Kimberly Takagi.
Takagi was more specifically an intern than a student teacher. As a student at Piedmont College working in the STEM field, Takagi served as a fellow through the Woodrow Wilson Internship Program that accepts about 12-15 applicants nationally each year.
“I no longer accept ‘student teachers’. That model does not adequately prepare individuals interested in becoming an educator. Instead, I have only worked with the ‘intern model’ for the past 3-4 years because that is a year long commitment to working in the classroom, not eight weeks,” said Bailey.
New social studies teacher, Ms. Catherine Brown, participated in a similar program that operated under a different system.
“The master’s degree program is two years. The first year we take what are called theory classes that analyze the history and methods of teaching. The second year is a full year of student teaching: 6 weeks student teaching in a middle school, and then 6 weeks student teaching at a high school. Then in the spring we spend about 13 weeks student teaching in one school,” said Brown.
Brown’s UGA program has also changed to create more opportunities for student teachers to interact with the classroom environment. Current Social Studies Department Chair Ms. Erin Adamson also went through a UGA teacher preparation program.
“The program has changed a lot since I received my degree. The practicum portion was simply observing the same teacher for a set number of hours. This newer approach means that student teachers make a smoother and quicker transition into teaching in the spring,” said Adamson.
Now as teachers at Cedar, Brown and Takagi still interact closely with their former mentors on a regular basis. Both mentors continue to help their proteges by giving their own input.
“Ms. Adamson is always incredibly helpful. She always makes herself available when I have questions or when I just need someone to bounce ideas off,” said Brown.
“She [Bailey] has done a lot for me. We support each other,” said Takagi.
Takagi and Brown see their mentors in themselves. Naturally, they acquired the teaching methods of their mentors, and consequently they have integrated them into their own lessons.
“The way Dr. Bailey teaches is very effective and very engaging. I also agree with her teaching philosophy,” said Takagi. “Her philosophy is teaching students how to learn and empowering students to be responsible for their own learning.”
Brown and Takagi are fully aware of the challenges that come with running their own classrooms. With the arrival of the first day of school, they both felt waves of emotions that come with treading into new territory for the first time.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know what the students would be like. I was also excited because I felt I had some good ideas for the first day of the school,” said Takagi.
“There’s certainly more pressure and probably more stress that comes with that [being officially responsible for students’ grades],”said Brown.
Reflecting on the year so far, Brown and Takagi agree that their strongest point is their content knowledge.
“I love history and reading, and being a history major in college gave me a strong background in the subject,” said Brown.
Brown believes that her biggest weakness is pacing her lessons due to the fact that she tends to overplan.
“I get really into a subject or lesson and want to try to cover everything,” said Brown. “The good thing about mistakes is that they are opportunities for learning and growth. So every time I make a mistake, I also learn something new about myself, my teaching, or my students and I get better.”
Takagi believes her weakness is her lack of longevity in the classroom. However, both teachers recognize that their weaknesses are as a result of their lack of experiences.
“I’ve had experience from the year that I taught with Dr. Bailey and previous experiences to that, but I haven’t had very much time to apply everything that I’ve learned to directly teaching in the classroom,” said Takagi.
Takagi and Brown aren’t the only teachers at Cedar who decided to return and begin their teaching career here. There are currently more than 14 faculty members who worked as student teachers at Cedar Shoals.
“I loved the students that I was teaching. There was so much liveliness here and they [the students] just have a lot of fun and class, and so I wanted to come back and teach these students.” said Mrs. Megan Ogden, 10th grade ELA teacher.
Although they’ve only been at Cedar for a short amount of time, like Ogden, Takagi and Brown have also grown an attachment to the environment of the school.
“I love the environment at Cedar Shoals. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful. Cedar also really allows teachers to be creative and bring their own experiences to the classroom while also drawing on the experiences of their students, catering learning and teaching to students as individuals rather than as students as a body of test takers,” said Brown.
As the year continues, their former mentors, Adamson and Bailey, leave an encouraging note to the new teachers hoping for a bright future for them at Cedar Shoals.
“Ms. Brown was an excellent student teacher and I am so excited that she is officially part of our staff this year. I know that her students are incredibly lucky to have her. I hope she brings a love and passion for history, and she continues building the writing skills and abilities of her AP US History students,” said Adamson.
“I feel so privileged to have worked with someone like Dr. Takagi. She already had a doctorate, but decided she wanted to help young people uncover their passion for science. She is dedicated and passionate about her students’ learning. We are so lucky to have her,” said Bailey.