At Garfield Elementary, I sit in a highly decorated classroom listening to my practicum teacher explain the lattice method of multiplication to a diverse group of fifth graders. The walls are lined with posters showing math tips, vocabulary, and various projects. The students sit at their desks in groups of four. Many of them forget I am observing them and goof off. Two boys poke each other and quietly giggle, a girl is drawing pictures in her notebook, yet another is staring blankly at a wall. Of course there are still many students paying attention, but it is nearly impossible for a teacher to engage all students. An hour earlier I was in their position, listening to my teacher point out different ways to engage students like these ones. In this classroom, I focus on one person, the teacher. I do not know who else is paying attention, I just know I was scribbling notes as the powerpoint flashed by.
Garfield is similar to many schools and when I first enter I must go through a locked front door to receive a pass. The ladies at the front desk are very kind. After I have received my badge I pass through to a hallway lined with student work. There are posters telling kids to be quiet and respectful in halls. The class I observe is upstairs and I must walk through a narrow stairwell to head up. These hallways also have many displays of art and motivational quotes. It is a welcoming environment full of life.
As a future educator I am required to do several practicums, in which I observe a classroom in the area I hope to one day teach. While in the classroom I watch for different techniques, grade papers, and work with students in small groups or individually. It gives me a chance to put on my educator shoes. I sit on a fence between two worlds, one of being teacher and one of student. I work to remember my place when I am in a class. In my college classes I want to correct someone, yet in the fifth grade class I sometimes forget I have the authority to tell students to pay attention. It is an odd experience being both a student and a teacher at the same time. In the classroom I find it exhilarating to look out at the desks from the front for the room instead of the other way around. I feel as though I have crossed to the other side; as though I have made it over the border that separates me from my students. However, I am stuck on the edge of both worlds. I spend time critiquing my educators while knowing I cannot do what they have accomplished. I am both an outsider and an insider; both student and a teacher.
In South Dakota there are specific standards of what future educators must be taught. In order to get a teaching license, I must learn not only about core content, but also the culture of South Dakota. I must be able to teach about farming and Native American culture as well as how small towns schools are different from city schools. Small town schools often have very little funding and many extracurricular activities must be combined with nearby schools. South Dakota has lots of small schools and if I stay to teach in South Dakota I will have to know a lot about them. In some small towns a school must be shut down due to a low student population. On the other hand Sioux Falls is growing and a new high school may be needed in the near future to accommodate the population.
Every school has different student populations that a teacher must be aware of. Garfield Elementary has a high minority student population and test scores are below South Dakota average. Many schools in South Dakota are behind the curve due to low funding and poor teacher pay. South Dakota has one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country which only adds to the teacher shortage in the state. Every state also has their own regulations on curriculum and standards. If a teacher wants to move states they must take an exam to get a teaching license. South Dakota also has a high Native American population and future teachers must take a class in Native American studies before they graduate Augustana University. Being a teacher means constantly learning about your student population. I will always be on the fence between a student and a teacher because new information can always be learned. By learning about my students I will be able to relate to my students more and be a better teacher. If I stay and teach in South Dakota I will have to learn more about the local culture. No matter where I teach I will always be learning new things about my nearby location and the local population.
My name is Lydia Lieber and I am an elementary education major and a special education minor.