By Michael Shaw
Teresa Young knows all about first-day jitters. She understands because she remembers exactly what it was like when she, as a first-time education major, faced a classroom full of her students.
“It’s scary, it’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s overwhelming.”
Oftentimes, that first day is even more daunting for the teachers. But Young, now Xavier’s Director of the School of Education, says the moment also affirmed what she had come to realize. “It felt like I was meant to do this,” she says.
Equally affirming is that she often hears that same conviction. “A lot of our students tell me they always wanted to be a teacher. It’s all they’ve ever wanted to do.”
In fact, the School of Education is second only to the School of Nursing in numbers of students. What makes Xavier the destination of choice for teaching is also what makes Xavier the choice for so many other degrees—a focus on experiential learning. And to borrow a baseball metaphor—a commitment to getting aspiring educators out “in the field.”
In the case of an education student, the field is a real classroom—observing, absorbing and learning. Of course, real classroom experience wouldn’t be possible without real classrooms or multiple partnerships. Over the years those partnerships have grown in number to include more than 30 school districts, numerous private schools, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Diocese of Covington and multiple not-for-profit centers that have partnered with the School of Education.
This is not a sink-or-swim exercise. It’s more of a tempering. Young thinks it’s important that aspiring education majors learn quickly whether their ideals and temperament align with the realities of teaching.
“We get students into a classroom from the very start, seeing what it’s like to be in a school with teachers and children, all the various facets of a school,” she says. It's a process that allows students to “try on” teaching before investing too much time and energy.
Being in the field isn’t limited to just the customary, final-year practice of student-teaching and being observed. At Xavier, education majors have real classroom experiences all four years while they're taking reading classes and doing methods courses, which culminate in 15 weeks of student-teaching. Part of the classroom experience is being mentored by their cooperating teacher and Xavier faculty at the same time.
To Young, that process is not just a challenge for a young college student, but also an opportunity to realize a life-long dream. “Some students have an affinity toward teaching, and we can engage them with the things that interest them.”
Xavier students don’t just learn. They help. Young recognizes that Xavier students are also a valuable community resource.
“It’s a wonderful partnership between what we’re doing and how we’re preparing our students. We can help schools, too, with something as basic as an extra pair of hands in the classroom.”
It’s also an impressive notion that on any given school day, up to 600 education students are out and about the Cincinnati metropolitan area interacting, learning and gaining experiences.
One public school principal who took notice was Shirley Curtis.
“When I was a principal, I noticed that Xavier education majors had a strong background in meeting the needs of students and had a close connection with their professors,” she says. “It’s not like they were just a number. Xavier’s faculty actually cared and wanted them to succeed.”
Now Curtis devotes her time in the Master of Education in Educational Administration program, but she still hears from students she worked with who are now part of the greater community. “Xavier students are loyal. Almost all of them stay in contact with us long after they leave the program.”
Young would also add that the mark of a true educator is a love of learning at all stages of their careers. "Good teaching is good teaching,” she says. “Education professionals continue to hone their skills and talent base."
Xavier’s partnerships also extend to working teachers seeking to supplement their state teaching license through additional endorsements or a master’s degree. In some cases, Xavier brings the classroom to where the teachers are, offering classes at satellite locations in schools throughout the Cincinnati region.
Renee Mattson, a field coordinator in Xavier’s special education programs, sees the value in making professional development friendlier for working professionals.
“We work in tandem with other schools, offering a package of courses to help teachers advance their careers from the comfort of their local school setting,” she says. “They do not have to travel down to the main campus because we come to them.”
In a career that demands constant testing and validation from both students and educators, effective teaching will always be more than just a test score. The proof is in the classrooms— Xavier’s classrooms.
“You can see it in the numbers of students we’re educating through our graduate program,” Young says. “Teachers do want lifelong learning. It’s not just a cliché.”
That’s certainly true of Young, who began her career as a second-grade teacher in Toledo, Ohio. And as a college professor she still loves being in front of a room full of kids or learning something new herself and seeing her own students grow into their teaching profession.
“Recently I attended a conference on young children’s literature with a former student who’s now a teacher with a classroom. Now we’re learning together. It was just so great!”