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Senior education majors enter new classrooms to teach and learn

By Britton Perelman, Managing Editor

When senior Chloe Smith was younger, she set up her basement like a classroom and pretended to be the teacher. She worked at a daycare and babysat during the summers. Teaching has always been her plan. And, this semester, she's finally in a classroom.

The eighth grade classroom at Loveland Middle School might not be her own, but Smith is completely comfortable there.

"I'm finally doing what I studied to do, and that's teach the kids," said Smith.

Smith is one of over 175 Miami University students placed in Cincinnati-area schools this spring. Though it's their first time in a classroom as student teachers, all of their curriculum and fieldwork experiences have been leading up to this - a final semester to prepare them for teaching positions post-graduation.

Education majors learn everything from pedagogy and teaching theories, to classroom management and how to create lesson plans. The teacher education department also features a TeachLive lab, a virtual classroom in which professors can create scenarios for their students.

"It's a very safe environment in case they fail because they're [dealing with] avatars and not real kids," said Kim Wachenheim, an assistant chair in the department of teacher education.

When they receive their placements, student teachers are also paired with a supervisor, a current faculty member or retired educator from public schools required to observe them at least eight times per semester.

"Student teaching is just like a full time job," said Jan Benes, administrative assistant in the College of Education, Health & Society. Benes helps make the student teaching placements each semester.

While most second semester seniors plan their schedules so as to leave plenty of free time, student teachers don't have that luxury.

Senior Jackie Jeambey said she's become more anti-social since she started student teaching in January, and that it's harder to see friends on campus now that she goes to bed so much earlier than everyone else.

Most of the student teachers began in early January, when the local schools resumed after New Years.

"My main goal that day was just to learn everyone's names," said Jeambey.

Her thought was, if she didn't know her eighth graders' names, they wouldn't care about getting to know her, either. She had them fill out notecards with fun facts, wrote the info on the seating chart and stared at the chart for the rest of class, trying to memorize names with faces.

During her 45-minute drive to the Mason Early Childhood Center on her first day as a student teacher, senior Morgan Kuhn had plenty of time to freak out about what was before her.

"I, weirdly enough, was more nervous about having lunch with the teachers than anything because you're not sitting with kids your age, you're sitting with actual adults," said Kuhn.

She was also nervous about coming into an already established classroom. Her first graders had already been together for the fall semester, gotten to know each other and their teacher. Kuhn was arriving halfway through the year as an outsider.

Kuhn's mother called during the drive to make sure she was okay. When she wasn't talking to her mom, she blasted upbeat music to pump herself up for the day ahead. And she had nothing to worry about - lunch with the other teachers went perfectly fine.

During the first few days, Kuhn spent the majority of her time just talking with the kids. She noticed who worked well independently and who she needed to keep an eye on. So far, things have been going well.

Recently, Kuhn got a selectively mute student to whisper in her ear during class, which was a huge accomplishment.

"It's just baby-steps trying to get her comfortable with me," said Kuhn.

But, usually, it's the littlest things that make everything worth it - like when she received a Star Wars-themed card saying that she was "out of this galaxy" and a "super-star teacher."

Kuhn is looking forward to the day her students come to her with questions rather than their real teacher.

"I'm ready to have my own group of kids," said Chloe Smith. "I'm ready to have my own classroom and have my own decorations up on the wall and my own way of doing things."

Smith said she wasn't expecting to feel so close to her students so quickly, and is surprised by how much she thinks about them when she goes home at night.

"I'm blown away by how they're changing my life," Smith said. "You go into student teaching like, 'I want to make a difference, I want to learn from this, I want to help the kids, I want to teach them,' but you don't realize that they are teaching you so much and you are getting so much back, just like they are."