By Hannah Conklin
Across the nation, education students participate in field experiences in order to gain the real-life skills necessary to be a successful teacher. At most colleges and universities, student teaching doesn’t begin until a student’s sophomore year or later. At Bluffton, education majors begin field experience just weeks after they set foot on campus as freshmen.
“It makes Bluffton’s education program stand out,” said Tim Byers, assistant professor of education and Bluffton alumnus.
For more than 20 years, Bluffton has partnered with local schools to get first-year students in the classroom as quickly as possible. Students are assigned to a teacher in their area of study and spend around five hours a week for the rest of the semester getting hands-on teaching experience.
“They were dancing at senior prom months ago, and now they’re in classrooms being pretend teachers,” Byers said.
The one-credit-hour field experience works in conjunction with Introduction to Teaching in a Diverse Society (EDU 200). Byers said the class attempts to prepare students for the challenges and professional expectations of teachers. The class also provides an outlet for students to discuss the joys and difficulties of their experiences.
“The purpose of the early field experience isn’t to make sure they all end up becoming teachers but to make sure they know if they really want to become teachers,” Byers said.
Byers said there’s no shame in a student changing their mind because of the field experience. He believes this is why freshmen go through the field experience so early.
Many students, however, find their field experience only cements their desire to become a teacher.
First-year history education major Demetrius Terry assists in teaching middle school social studies Tuesdays and Thursdays at Heir Force Community School in Lima.
“It makes me want to teach even more,” he said. “I feel like being here [at Bluffton] and starting teaching early has fueled me to finish my degree here.”
Terry said he hoped to have been assigned to a high school class but finds his time in the middle school classroom fun and challenging.
Jarod Siekman, a first-year math education major, is also assigned to Heir Force Community School. He said working with a seventh-grade math class has been a great experience so far, but he admitted there are difficulties associated with entering the classroom so quickly.
“It’s an inner-city school, and I’m not used to that,” he said. “It’s harder for me to relate to the kids.”
Early childhood education major Megan Hill was also honest about her time in a kindergarten class at Pandora-Gilboa Elementary in Pandora.
“I don’t really know what I’m really supposed to be doing yet, so I get to do a lot of observing,” she said.
Hill is looking forward to teaching a lesson later in the semester, but in the meantime, she is optimistic about her future as an education major at Bluffton.
“Going into education, I was skeptical if it was something I wanted to do, but now, through the experience, I’m reassured. I know this is where I’m supposed to be,” Hill said.
In his twelfth year teaching at Bluffton, Byers believes the freshman field experience is a system that works.
“Bluffton has a solid reputation of producing quality teachers,” Byers said. “It’s a lot of work for students, but it’s something they take a lot of pride in.”