New partnership provides hands-on experience for future teachers

Elementary education students at Gardner-Webb University now have the opportunity to assist in the classroom before student teaching begins

Garner Webb University—Garner Webb University

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. — On a Tuesday morning at Washington Elementary School, Colleen Cockman, 20, assists a second-grade boy with a question on a test. For Cockman, this kind of hands-on, one-on-one experience is something she would have had to wait another year for had Gardner-Webb University not decided to throw their students into the “wild” of the classroom a bit early.Gardner-Webb is a private, four-year university offering both undergraduate and graduate programs. Located 50 miles west of Charlotte in Boiling Springs, the university is rooted in Christian values which are also reflected in the School of Education.The process for education majors consists of two years of classes, junior year clinicals, then 16 weeks of student-teaching before receiving their degree. In order to be fully prepared to teach grades K-6, elementary education majors take a wide variety of required courses in math, music, art, physical education, social studies and science.Dr. Jason Parker, associate dean of the School of Education, explained the undergraduate process.”With every School of Education class, there are clinical experiences that embed into the courses and build in requirements and complexity,” Parker said. “GWU has four levels of experience: the first is observation; second observing the teacher; third is internship; and fourth is the student teaching experience.”As for the new program and partnership with Washington Elementary, Parker noted, “The candidates working at Washington are in what we would consider a Level 2 clinical. It’s providing in-depth experience in terms of collaboration with clinical educators. Our goal is to unmask a lot of the unknowns with education well in advance to the student teaching experience.”The idea was born after Washington Elementary School principal and GWU alum Dr. Chris Bennett approached Parker with the proposal. After several exploratory meetings from mid-November to January, the collaborators came up with a curriculum in the three methods classes were aligned with the new program.Monday and Tuesday, three GWU classes travel to Washington Elementary School during their normal instruction hours. The classes include Dr. Lane Wesson’s Language Arts Methods class, Dr. Cindy McKinney’s Fine Arts Integration class, and Parker’s Social Studies Methods class.”Our focus is on small-group work, and the School of Education students have jumped in during their time here to help students grow and become more successful,” Bennett said. “Beyond the curriculum, the student-to-student interaction furthers the relationship building through formal and informal conversations.”Cockman said she’s thankful to have this opportunity prior to student teaching.”I think a huge thing I’ve learned is what goes on behind the scenes,” she said. “When I go to my clinical experiences they have everything prepared, when I come here it’s a typical day and I get to see what’s happening and what’s going on, and what [the teacher’s] needs are. … It’s been really good to get relations with the kids because now they know us and we can work one-on-one.”During their time at Washington Elementary, GWU students have received not only observational, but hands-on experience with guided reading and math groups. Working with and observing current teachers has been extremely beneficial to the students. Cockman said after her time at Washington Elementary she feels extremely prepared for student teaching.”The nerves I’ve felt this semester would be the same nerves I would feel 10 times more next semester,” she said. “Student teaching is really serious, that’s your ‘do you graduate or not graduate.’ Getting those nerves out, getting that experience now is really helpful to knowing exactly what to do.”Cockman also got the experience to teach a lesson on her own where she used a Dr. Seuss book to talk about rhyming words, then students made a craft matching the front cover of the book.”Teaching is such a privilege, to have an impact on a future generation and teach them everything they need to know about life, that’s just really cool for me,” Cockman said. She said her time at Washington Elementary has confirmed she is on the right path for her career. Her highlights have been working with specific children and helping them with their needs.Parker said he hopes to keep the program going for future education students.”My vision is for this to run a continuous basis with some of our classes and our local school,” Parker said. “We do this expanded partnership opportunity as a way for our students to give back more to local schools. We see this as a way to build relationships and a way for our students to get their hands and feet into the classroom and impact students before the student teaching experience begins.”