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January 12, 2012

VIDEO: Total-ly In: Education students ‘totally immersed in the schools’

TERRE HAUTE — Kayla Blackburn stood in front of the fourth grade classroom with a book clasped in her hands.

“I am excited to see what happens next because I have never read this story before,” said the senior elementary and special education major from Carmel. “Fingers up, on the first word. I’m going to start reading, then I’ll take volunteers.”

Poised and assured, Blackburn led the attentive fourth grade students through their reading assignment. It was a different Blackburn than who entered the classroom at the beginning of the semester.

“I was kind of like a deer in the headlights. I was so nervous,” she said. “By the end of the day, I was so tired I wanted to sleep for days, but I couldn’t because I had to wake up the next morning and be here again.”

That being at Terre Town Elementary School and other elementary schools in Vigo County, day in and day out, is the point of the Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning program in Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education. College leaders recently presented the innovative TOTAL program to a national audience in Washington, D.C. by invitation of Teachers for New Era.

“We are gaining recognition for the fact that we do have a program where students are totally immersed in the schools,” said Diana Quatroche, professor and chairwoman of the elementary, early and special education department. “A lot of programs still don’t do that.”

Elementary education majors spend the semester before student teaching immersed in Vigo County School Corp. classrooms observing and working with master teachers as part of the TOTAL program.

“Previously, students just went in for several observations, then they taught a few lessons,” said Quatroche. “They didn’t really have the opportunity to see what a full day was like or to totally engage with the students or the mentor teachers, who we call coaches now.”

“They see what the real world is like from bell to bell, from 7:30 in the morning to question mark in the afternoon,” said Beth Whitaker, an ISU elementary education professor.

Through that experience, day after day in the classroom working with veteran teachers as coaches, the future educators learn what it takes to be a teacher.

“When I came into the TOTAL program, I thought that teaching was standing in front of a group of kids and just talking about math, talking about science, talking about English,” said Hilary Dant, a senior elementary and special education major from Evansville.

After starting the TOTAL program, Dant soon realized being a teacher encompasses more than sharing knowledge.

“It’s so much more,” she said. “It’s lesson planning. It’s being organized. It’s grading papers. It’s behavior management. It’s telling the kids, trying to get them excited, trying to get them to listen. From that, I feel like I am completely prepared for student teaching.”

Sarah Gadberry, a third-grade teacher at Terre Town Elementary and TOTAL coach, said the TOTAL students will have an advantage going into the classroom.

“They’ve seen everything from a power outage that we’ve had to a fire drill to students that don’t show up every day and we have to call the office on them,” said the 2000 ISU graduate. “They get to see everything, and that’s what teaching is. It’s not just being at the front of the room, it’s the paperwork and the phone calls and mingling in the lounge.”

Whitaker said Indiana State faculty designed TOTAL because they saw a need for students to understand what teaching involves in today’s world.

“We didn’t want anything in student teaching to be a surprise,” she said. “You don’t get to the end of your college career and then realize, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t want to be a teacher because this is more than I thought.’”

TOTAL allows the students to take book knowledge and fuse it with practical knowledge.

“It’s a lot different being in a classroom and having to deal with a behavior issue or a learning issue and actually having to respond to it right then and there,” Quatroche said. “I think that’s what they learn from the classroom teachers.”

LeeAnne Bamberg, a third grade teacher at Terre Town Elementary, described the growth of the TOTAL students as amazing.

“They come in and they’re nervous and they just don’t know what they’re in for,” said the 2004 ISU graduate. “And once they get into it, they realize this is what they want to do for a career and they go for it 100 percent. They put themselves into their lessons and they make them very creative and building relationships with students and other educators and, by the end, I feel like they really are prepared for their student teaching and even to have their own classrooms.”

But the schools also benefit by having the students interning at the schools, according to Cinda Taylor, principal of Terre Town Elementary.

“They enter our classrooms with such energy and excitement. It’s immediately contagious,” she said. “It’s definitely a win-win opportunity because the interns, hopefully, will gain lots of experiences through the TOTAL program being in the classrooms, but then also for our school to have a extra pair of hands in the classroom, to offer assistance, as we’re trying to provide the most quality instruction that we can each and every day, having the extra assistance is just invaluable.”

The teachers agreed about the benefits of having a TOTAL student in their classrooms.

“I think it’s even made me a better teacher,” Bamberg said. “Just to open up my classroom and share it with somebody has been really a blessing.”

“I welcome anyone in and anytime I can get a second pair of hands to help me out is a blessing,” Gadberry said. “In this day and age, we’re big into differentiated instruction, and you definitely need an extra pair of hands for that, even just helping me prepare or taking a group of kids or even one child.”

By spending day after day in the classrooms, Dant and Blackburn feel prepared not only for student teaching in the spring, but to teach their own students in their own classrooms.

“I feel very confident in my behavior management skills and I feel like I could go into a classroom right now and get it up and running,” Dant said. “My host teacher, she has been amazing. She has showed me how to do all those things so I feel completely confident walking into student teaching come January.”

Although ISU education students complete many hours of practicum before the TOTAL experience, Blackburn said they would come in to teach one great lesson and leave. However, TOTAL lets them experience a teacher’s life.

“You fall in love with the students and the career, but you also get to see that there are good days and there are bad days. So I think that was something that kind of confirmed, yes, the good days are worth it, and the bad days stink, but you can make it through,” Blackburn said about the program. “When you have to teach every single day, your lesson isn’t always a superstar lesson, but it’s the way you interact with your students and are sparkling in your classroom.”

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