As Elon University students left campus for spring break this week, some students stayed back due to a full-time work schedule. Many of those students include seniors in Elon’s Teacher Education Program, requiring the education majors to align their schedules with a K-12 school system calendar.
The Teacher Education Program offers an initial North Carolina teacher licensure in elementary education, middle grades, high school and special education. Throughout their university courses, education majors spend partial time in K-12 classrooms gaining student teaching experiences. During their senior spring, students teach full-time at their placement.
For senior Abigail Saracino, the full-time schedule was challenging at first. She discovered that she and her friends would spend most of their time on different schedules during their last Elon semester. Some of Saracino’s friends are also student teachers in other school districts with different break schedules.
“It was a little bit frustrating to realize this is our last spring break together and we can't even do anything together,” Saracino said.
She spends the majority of her day in a third grade classroom fulfilling her elementary education licensure, and then another portion of the day working in a special education classroom for that licensure. Her majors in elementary education and special education placed her at an elementary school 30 minutes away from Elon, where she plans lessons, attends parent-teacher meetings and gains experiences working closely with younger students.
“You are planning everything — grading everything, doing lunch, doing recess, doing parent meetings, email correspondence — everything that you can think of that a teacher would do,” Saracino said.
According to the university student teaching handbook, student teachers are expected to report to their placement daily and attend teacher workdays, parent meetings, make-up days due to school cancellations from inclement weather and also staff and professional development meetings. For senior Heidi Weston, this full-time schedule was a major change at first, but is worth it in the final stretch of her undergraduate education.
“It has been a much starker transition than I thought because it is a full schedule,” Weston said. “It's a big change, and it's kind of like a shock to the system. The first three days of student teaching, I came home and went to sleep. My feet hurt and I was exhausted. But I think it's a really invaluable experience.”
Weston’s student-teaching experience runs differently than Saracino’s, as she’s placed in a high school teaching a civic literacy course through her history with a teacher licensure major.
When it comes to days off for student teachers, they are permitted up to two professional development days for interviews, employment fairs and other events that must be approved by the clinical teacher at the school and university supervisor. If a student teacher is absent, they must provide substitute plans for it to be excused.
Despite the different schedules, Saracino said she is thankful for the experiences student teaching has brought her.
“This is a little mini practice of exactly what things are going to be like,” Saracino said. “I'm very happy that I have this opportunity, very happy for the people who are making this experience.”