April 19, 2024

FTV: Student Teachers – Part 2

     In FTV:  Student Teachers (4-10-24), I recounted some of my experiences with the rite of passage called ‘student teaching’.  The state wants teaching candidates vetted in an actual classroom setting before signing off and giving them a license to teach.  Usually one decides whether or not they want to pursue a career in teaching before getting into the final, practical phase.  With that said, it isn’t unheard of for some to go through the student teaching part and realize they really don’t want to be a teacher.  Rarer yet is the teaching candidate who lands a job and then bails out before they make it a year (sometimes even less).  Like any new job, you have to get the feel for what you are doing before deciding to keep at it or go another direction.

     My first and only teaching job began and ended in the Ontonagon Area Schools.  If my advisor had his way, I would have gone straight from my undergraduate degree into a Master of Arts program.  When he broached the subject, I recall telling Mr. Machowski, “I have been in school for seventeen years and would like to go out and see how a job works out.  If I land a job, I am going to have to take course work to get a permanent teaching certificate so one way or another, I will end up in grad school.”  It wasn’t the first time I had disagreed with my advisor, but he never held it against me.  He would just say, “Well, it is your decision, but if it doesn’t work out, don’t blame me,” which he always said with a mischievous grin on his face.

     My student teaching experience didn’t start as I expected.  When the assignments came out, I was assigned to Gwinn Middle School in seventh grade Social Studies class.  My major was Geography / Earth Science so I was a little perplexed why I was assigned in Social Studies and not Earth Science.  “Well, that was as close as I could get.  There weren’t any Science openings and there are not a lot of places that actually teach Earth Science.  Principals see ‘Geography’ and think ‘Social Studies’.  Secondary teaching licenses are labeled ‘all subjects’ for 7th and 8th grade.  Someday they may be looking for someone to teach a section or two and you will be able to say, “Well, yes, I have a background teaching Social Studies.”  

     They recommend you pay a visit to your supervising teacher the semester before you student teach.  The way my class schedule worked out, I had a couple of courses I needed that were only taught in the fall so that pushed my student teaching to the Spring semester of 1975.  Mr. M had said this was not ideal (“Coming in the second semester is always tougher than starting at the beginning of a new school year.”) but I really didn’t have any other option.  On a a beautiful fall day, I drove the 30 miles to Gwinn to get the low down.  My future supervising teacher was a well respected, middle career man.  He cheerfully gave me a ten minute school tour, a brief oral outline of what his classes were studying, and a jaunty, “See you in January,” as he returned to his classroom.  He knew I was coming but apparently stepping inside his classroom wasn’t on the program.  The only thought I had on the way home was, “Driving back and forth to Gwinn in January, February, and  March won’t be fun, but at least I can live at home.”  I had spent two years driving two thirds of that route to band jobs at K.I.Sawyer so it wasn’t an unfamiliar drive.

     The final paperwork came my way near the end of the first semester and I did a double take.

I was now signed up to teach seventh grade Science under Bill Laurich at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette.  I called Mr. M. and asked if there was a mistake.  Everybody knew that student teachers were never allowed to teach in their hometown school district.  Mr. M said, ‘Well, this opportunity came up and I grabbed it.  Did you ever go to Bothwell?  Did you ever have Bill Laurich as a teacher?”  I answered ‘no’ to both questions.  Bothwell had opened up after my JH days and even if he had taught at Graverat JH, I had never heard of him.  “Then you are all set,” he told me.  All set?  I had not expected this turn of events but it meant no to driving to Gwinn and being assigned to a Science class.  I took it to be an early Christmas present.

     As soon as the public schools resumed in January of 1975, I called Bothwell to make an appointment to visit with my new supervising teacher.  The secretary said, “I was just about to call you myself.  Mr. Brady (my old JH principal now in charge at Bothwell) wants all the student teachers to meet with him at 1:00 pm this Friday.”  I assured her I would be there.  I forget how many student teachers were at Bothwell that semester but the handful of us who attended the meeting fit comfortably in Mr. Brady’s office.  He ran down the list of expectations he must have given to all new teachers:  when to be at school, how to call in sick, and so on.  He verified our assignments but when he got to mine, he said, “Oh, and by the way, I switched you from Bill Laurich to Wayne Greenwald who teaches 8th grade Social Studies.”  There was no discussion or explanation and at that point he released us and suggested we go and visit our supervising teachers.

     I walked up to the second floor and found Wayne sitting at one of the four desks in their prep area.  Bothwell was set up with large rooms they called ‘clusters’ or ‘modules’ shared by four teachers.  Movable desks and barriers were set up so each class (English, Social Studies, Science, and Math) had a quarter of the space.  When a film or presentation for the whole group was in the daily plan, they would move the barriers and so everyone in the room could watch at the same time.  I knew Wayne because he had worked with my brother Ron at the Red Owl grocery store.  My only previous contact with him in a school setting was in the spring of 1967.  He was a first year teacher at Graveraet JH and I had to serve an hour of after school detention under his care (more on that later).

     Wayne saw me coming and after introductions to the other three teachers in the cluster, he read my mind and asked, “And are you wondering why you are here and not with Bill Laurich?”

Mr. Brady is mad at Bill for something or another (I never did find out what the rub was) so he doesn’t want Bill to have a student teacher.  I saw your name on the list so I volunteered my class instead.  Once you get the hang of how the cluster scheduling works, you should be able to at least spend one of your planning hours working with Bill’s science class.”  I still didn’t quite know what to make of it but said, “Okay, I will see you in a couple of weeks when NMU’s semester starts.”  I actually volunteered to start right away, but they did not want the student teachers to start until school was back on at Northern.

     I stopped at the Geography Department on the way home to drop off some papers and Mr. M happened to be in his office.  I knocked on his door and told him about my change of schedule, ending with,  “He can’t just change my assignment, can he?”  Mr. M looked up from the paperwork I was interrupting, gave me his trademark grin and said, “It sounds like he already did.  It is his school.  Just remember what I said about getting experience outside of Earth Science.”  I relayed what Wayne had said about working with Bill and he said, “There you go – best of both worlds.  Laurich is an excellent teacher so working with him one hour of the day for even part of the semester will be worth it.”

     Bothwell’s open concept scheduling was new to me.  The clusters met for half the day and the time for each segment was adjusted almost daily.  If one of them wanted to show a 40 minute movie, that time would be subtracted from the half day and the rest of the class periods would simply be ten minutes shorter than normal.  The other half day schedule was taken up by two planning periods (for individual and team planning) and an enrichment class.  I would eventually end up working with Bill Laurich during one of the planning periods and my enrichment classes ended up being nine weeks of chess and a few weeks of outdoor education.

     Wayne caught me up to speed on how he graded his students and how he liked to structure his lessons.  I observed him at work the first week but by the first Friday I was there, he caught me a little by surprize.  He was reviewing an assignment he had given his class about historical figures from World War II by putting pictures up on an overhead projector.  Once they IDed each picture, he would fill in some additional information about them.  After he had done the first two rotations of that day, he said, “Okay, did you hear enough to run through the other two sections?”  I had been half listening to him but was actually watching how the kids behaved but I had not choice but to say, “Sure, I can do that.”  Lesson learned, he never caught me flat footed again and we shared duties for the next couple of weeks.  Wayne told me to prep a unit on different cultures and minorities.  I ran an outline by him and he gave me a starting and ending time for my unit.

     I was getting to know the kid’s personalities a bit by the time I started my unit.  Our Student Teaching Seminar only had one assignment outside of us attending a monthly half day session with all the other student teachers out that semester.  We were told to identify one student with some type of ‘difficulties’ (social or behavioral issues that were affecting their school work) and see if we could somehow modify how they interacted with their school environment.  I decided to work with a leather jacket clad James Dean wanna-be who tended to respond to everything with mono-sylabic answers.  I got a two-for-one deal as he had a steady girlfriend so any time I spent with him at school, she was along for the ride.

     When I shared my target pupil with Wayne, he was realistic.  The background he gave me was typical for a kid who had a bummer home life, spent a lot of time out on the streets so he would not have to be home, and really didn’t want to be in school.  It turned out his girlfriend lived two blocks up and two blocks over from our house on Summit Street so we had a neighborhood connection.  When he didn’t feel like engaging, she and I ignored him and talked about life in western Marquette.  After a few tutoring sessions spent being ignored, James Dean started trying to be part of the discussion some of the time.  I wrote in my final seminar paper that my efforts to reach the kid had been sort of successful, but did I get him to love school?  Probably not.

     At the session we handed in our ‘student behavior modification’ reports, we were told we now had the opportunity to demonstrate our skills on one of our fellow student teachers.  The facilitator said, “Look at the person to your right.  They have something that you want.  Use your negotiating skills to get them to give it to you.”  I had no idea who the guy to my right was or what his student teaching assignment was.  He was a head taller than me and was wearing an NMU letter jacket.  I did not recognize him from the basketball team so I suspect he was a football player, probably a lineman judging by his size.  I looked at him and he said, “Don’t even bother because whatever it is, I ain’t gonna give it to you and you ain’t gonna take it.”  He had a smirk on his face that said, “Ha, take that!” so my response was ‘Okay.”  I went back to watching the other ‘negotiations’ taking place around me and ignored the doofus who had just told me he wasn’t going to cooperate.  After a while, he said, “Aren’t you supposed to be trying to convince me?” to which I replied, “Nah, you already said you weren’t going to cooperate so I won’t waste my time.  When they ask me how I did, I will just say, ‘I failed.  The subject was not interested in cooperating’.”

     Mr. Letterjacket looked at me with his mouth open like he was going to say something but nothing came out.  I think he realized at that point he was now the one who was supposed to convince me of something and he was going to get from me exactly what I had gotten from him:  nothing!  Finally, he said,  “Okay, if you tell them I gave you what you asked for, can I say the same thing about you?”  “Sure,”  I said, “but you haven’t actually asked me for anything, have you?”  “What did you want from me?” he asked in return.  “Cooperation,” I told him, ‘So I guess this means I got what I asked for.  Sure, we can both say we were successful.”

     I shared this story with Wayne the next day and he surprised me once again.  He said,  Oh, I always knew you could talk your way out of trouble.  Remember when you skipped detention back in 8th grade?  You said you showed up but there was no one in the room so after ten minutes, you left to catch the bus home.”  I was amazed he remembered our one meeting from one incident eight years earlier.  “Yes, I said.  And that was the truth.  You must have believed me because you said I would have to repeat the detention but you wouldn’t make me do another one as a penalty for missing the first one.”  Wayne said, “That is right.  You were the only one in detention that day and I almost forgot to show up myself.  I can tell when someone is lying and you weren’t, so we called it good.” 

Top Piece Video – Before Aqualung, Jethro Tull sang about Teacher!  This is a little more recent clip as Ian Anderson has taken to sharing some of the vocal duties as his well weather voice has begun to age!