Teaching teachers at George Stone School

Every year, the students at George Stone School help train new educators.

Most people associate earning a college degree with listening to lectures by erudite professors in imposing classrooms. But aspiring teachers in Union College’s elementary education program learn nearly as much from 30 or so children who spend their days both learning and teaching on Union’s campus.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to experience things that most people don’t,” explained Erynn Johnson, an eighth grader at George Stone Elementary School, Union College’s on-campus lab school. “We have many student teachers and we get to teach them how to teach.”

Founded in 1976, George Stone Elementary School has two full-time teachers, two classrooms and provides Union’s elementary education majors with opportunities for observation and practice in a small, multigrade classroom environment.

At Union, elementary education majors start observing at George Stone as freshman. In later years, students often teach subjects like reading or science for several class periods, and eventually spend eight weeks in the classroom, the first six working with the teacher and then two weeks on their own.

“Few education programs place pre-service teachers into authentic classroom settings as much, or as early as does Union,” said Kathy Bollinger, associate professor of education at Union. “Teaching, although a fun and rewarding career, is not an easy one, and we want to make sure our students know what to expect before it is too late to change their minds.”

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, half of teachers leave the profession after only five years. But according to Bollinger, approximately 90 percent of Union elementary education graduates since 2002 still work in education, either as full-time or part-time teachers, substitute teachers or in school administration.

Students who are used to training teachers make life much easier for the young instructors. “They know how to deal with student teachers— and we are terrified,” said Hailey Corrigan, a 2011 elementary education graduate who completed her teaching assignment at George Stone in April. “When I came in, I didn’t know how they did everything, so the students had to help me. They’re good about it without trying to get away with much.”

“It’s learning from both sides,” said Theresa Weigel-Gilham, the principal and upper grade teacher at George Stone. “The student teachers are lucky to get our students because we instruct the student to be nice even though a teacher may not do well on a lesson.”

Corrigan appreciated the way she was quickly incorporated into the classroom during her experience. “Before I taught at George Stone, I taught first grade at a nearby public elementary school,” she said. “The teacher had never worked with a student teacher before, so getting in the routine of having someone else in the room was kind of rough.”

“You have to learn to be flexible and willing to turn things over to the student teachers,” Weigel-Gilham explained, but not at the cost of the George Stone students. “I monitor everything. We’re here to train the college students, but my elementary kids are still my first priority. I need to make sure they have received a good education, too.”

The grade-schoolers appreciate the different strengths that student teachers bring to the classroom. “Ms. Corrigan is really good at helping us understand math and letting us know different ways we can look at a problem we’re having troubles with it,” said seventh grader Paxton Collingsworth.

“She knows most every way there is to do a problem,” agreed fellow seventh grader Demi Sigowa.

“I think its good to learn from different types of teaching styles,” said Collingsworth. “When you get to higher levels of education, you’re going to have multiple teachers.”

Each of George Stone’s two classrooms usually sees eight student teachers each year in addition to the observers and single subject teachers. Even with so many, some student teachers stand out in the memories of the pupils. They remember teachers who did unique science experiments such as learning what it is like to drink fluids in space. They remember teachers who reacted to practical jokes. But most of all, they remember the teachers who cared.

Casey Prindle assists at George Stone School in 2006.

“One of our favorite teachers was Mr. [Casey] Prindle,” said Sigowa. “He really put a lot of effort into his teaching.”

“He really cared about his job and he wanted to be a teacher,” agreed Johnson. “Everyone enjoyed having fun with him and he was good at teaching.”

“He gave you extra help after lunch if you needed it,” remembered Collingsworth. “If everyone was done, then he played games with us.”

This kind of experience is vital for teachers who plan to teach in a multigrade classroom environment—like most Adventist schools in Mid-America. Though she just finished her second year at Union training future teachers, Weigel-Gilham has spent her career mentoring young teachers in multigrade classrooms in the areas she served. “Our graduates get job offers from all over because they have experience in multigrade classrooms,” she explained. “Most other school’s education programs place student teachers in one grade classrooms, so they don’t understand the multigrade setting.”

The George Stone students enjoy their role helping to train future teachers—even if it means putting up with a rare poor lesson. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad student teacher—someone I had to really try to get along with,” said Collingsworth.

“Having student teachers in the classroom isn’t a burden,” said Johnson. “I think it’s actually great to be a part of their learning experience. They become better and more experienced teachers. It helps them to know how to deal with their students and to understand what kids like in a teacher.”