Sterling Teacher Education Program Provides Growth Opportunities, Sees Results
The goal of Sterling College's Education department is to prepare students to be top-quality teachers. Professor Terri Gaeddert says, "We do everything we can to train our students, not just for the challenging situations they will face in the classroom, but even for the interviewing skills they need to obtain a job." This year there are some very visible results of all that preparation.
Sterling Teacher Education Program (STEP) students are required to log more than 100 hours of observation and participation in classrooms before their full semester of clinical teaching. Often teacher candidates must plan hands-on lessons and actually teach them during their observation hours. Other times field experiences require them to step back into the position of a student. For their education in psychology class, they are paired with students, not teachers, following the students' schedules for the day.
Additional observations increase prospective teachers' exposure to diversity. Early in the program, STEP candidates take a cultural diversity class and spend an evening preparing and serving a meal at a soup kitchen. In the semester prior to their clinical teaching, elementary education students spend two days a week in a school with a high level of diversity.
"We want to prepare them for anything they may experience when they stand in front of their own classrooms," Gaeddert says. "We try to be creative in our preparation, so that they, in turn, can be creative in their teaching. If they are ill-prepared, they cannot be effective, caring teachers." Though the quality of compassion cannot be taught like a science fact, STEP professors believe it can be fostered by service. Prospective teachers are required to complete a service project every year. At the senior level, the project must benefit the school where they are completing their semester of clinical teaching.
STEP also prepares its prospective teachers for obtaining jobs by requiring them to perform mock interviews in their senior seminar class. They must also interview before they can begin their semester of clinical teaching. Sterling also partners with ACCK (Associated Colleges of Central Kansas) to provide a Teacher Interview Day for graduates seeking employment.
The Sterling Teacher Education Program has recently been seeing big results from all this preparation. Second-year teacher Kacie Rife, a 2007 Sterling College graduate, was named the Eudora Teacher of the Month this past December for the passion she brings to her third-grade classroom. Her principal at West Elementary School, Jan Inman, says, "She was meant to be a teacher. I can only hope that we can have as many children go through her room as we possibly can and that she can one day mentor teachers to be as great as she is."
In early January of 2009, the Kansas Department of Education announced this year's Horizon Award winners. These second-year teachers are recommended by their principals for the expertise and professionalism they display. Following a rigorous selection process, thirty educators are selected. This year, two of the thirty Horizon awards went to STEP graduates, Maeghan Bishop and Andrew Wesner.
A current education student, Kelli LaRosch, is receiving recognition of a different sort. She wrote and illustrated a children's book to fulfill the requirements for her Reading and Writing in the Content Area class last spring, and What's Math Got to Do with Farming? was published earlier this year. LaRosch has received recognition from the Kansas Farm Bureau, and several public schools across the state have invited her to share her book and present additional math-related concepts.
Other STEP candidates are also going above and beyond. Currently the Kansas Department of Education is piloting a new assessment for teacher candidates. In the fall of 2008, clinical teachers across the state were asked to volunteer to be part of the pilot group for the Kansas Performance Teaching Portfolio (KPTP). Eight out of the twenty volunteers were from Sterling College. "Their willingness speaks highly of our students' participation in their profession. They care about teaching as a vocation, not just as an individual job," says Dr. Gladys Ritterhouse, STEP director.
In addition, Sterling College prospective teachers have a 100% pass rate on the Praxis II series of tests that all teacher-education students must pass in order to receive their teaching licenses. These things combine to make Sterling College teacher education graduates well-sought after by district superintendents to fill open positions in their school systems. "School district representatives like to come to the ACCK interview day because our candidates are very well prepared," says Nancy Hicks, STEP Administrative Assistant.
"Providing quality servant-leader educators is what drives the Sterling Teacher Education Program," says Dr. Ritterhouse. "Our desire is to prepare called, competent, and committed educators who will change the world for future generations."