NACOGDOCHES, Texas — If given the choice, most people would not revisit their middle school years. But preservice teachers in Stephen F. Austin State University’s community responsiveness and engaged advocacy in teacher education program, or CREATE, attended Mike Moses Middle School as students — including eating lunch in the cafeteria, dressing out for physical education and taking math tests — all to enlighten their approaches to teaching.
CREATE was developed last year by Associate Professor Dr. Lauren Burrow in the Department of Elementary Education and Professor Dr. Heather Olson Beal in the Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership. As part of this program, preservice teachers take courses at SFA, intern in Nacogdoches Independent School District classes, receive mentoring from families in the district and volunteer in the community.
This year, three groups of preservice teachers in the program also went back to middle school as part of the “student-for-a-day” experience at Mike Moses in late October and early November. Olson Beal said the idea for this experience came from similar programs she and Burrow read about in education journals. They thought middle school would be a good place for SFA preservice teachers to blend in.
“This experience is based on the radical trust of all the parties involved,” Burrow said. “We want the preservice teachers to really understand what it’s like to be a student here. A lot goes on even between classes.”
Once they arrived, the preservice teachers were assigned to a grade and received their schedules from Claire Bray, assistant principal of curriculum and instruction at Mike Moses.
“It’s an incredible learning experience,” said Bray, who believes all teachers should attend school as students every five years to remember what it’s like. She said Mike Moses’ students are familiar with SFA preservice teachers walking among them because the school is hosting 80 SFA interns this year.
Kaylee Greene, an elementary education senior from Lake Jackson, initially worried she wouldn’t be able to relate to the kids. “But I was actually surprised at how welcoming the students were and how well we bonded.” She discovered middle school students “need the same amount of attention and love” as the elementary school students she plans to teach.
Audrey Diakun, an art education senior from Carrollton, was nervous about finding her way around the campus. However, “The students were really sweet and helpful,” she said.
Greene and Kassidy Perry, an elementary education senior from Chapel Hill, also worried about getting through the long day. “I was shocked at how many times lunch detentions were threatened as the day went on, not because of the teachers, but because I know I was restless, so I can only imagine what the 12-year-olds around me were feeling,” Perry said. “Eight hours is a really long time to be learning without adequate breaks. I want to teach younger kids, so this will be even harder for them.”
Both Greene and Diakun said their favorite classes – teen leadership and PE — eased their restlessness with physical activity outside the classroom.
All three preservice teachers said they gained insight during this experience that will impact the way they teach, and they recommend other preservice teachers be middle schoolers for a day. Perry also thinks this experience “would be very intriguing for parents if they can blend in. They can see how different types of students react to different types of teachers.”
Greene had some advice for future participants in the experience: “Just be sure to drink your morning coffee in advance.”