Toby Neal

The End of Student Teaching, the Begining to a Career

Blog Post created by Toby Neal on Apr 26, 2015

Going into my student teaching experience, I had very mixed emotions about whether or not I wanted to teach in a classroom. I had a lot of experience with non-formal education and liked where I was. I knew that student teaching in the formal setting of a classroom was going to be anything but easy. The first day I was introduced to my students was nerve-racking! I was responsible for the education of these young minds, that is a lot of pressure for one person! I did my best and I dove right in by taking over the Natural Resource and Ecology class at the beginning of the semester. Soon after I added Horticulture and Ag Science as well. While teaching at Twin Valley HS, I never felt like I had time to think, I was always preparing something for the next class, the next day, or an after school event. There was no time to sit and think about everything I was going through! After a few weeks in, I decided that I never wanted to teach in a classroom setting. The kids were great and I enjoyed working with them, but I couldn't stand the thought of having to print and revise another lesson. I started to dread going to school and have to do it all again the next day. Sometime shortly after, I was observed for the first time by Ms. Laura Rice. She observed my first two classes, and then we had a chance to talk over lunch. During our talk, I could tell she was disappointed in my teaching, and wished that I was doing better. We talked about my performance and she stated that during the Fall Semester in Lab, I was doing so well, and she wanted to know what happened. The truth is, I don't know what happened, I was in a "funk", I wasn't happy with what I was doing. I lost my sense of direction. But after that day, and talking with Ms. Rice and Ms. Weaver, I decided that I needed to change, and fast! I tried to better prepare myself for my lessons and started to stay after school later, and set-up for the following day. I communicated more with Ms. Weaver about what I planned to do, and asked for suggestions. I noticed my lessons were getting better, and I was happier with the work I was doing. I made connections with my students and they began to respect me as an educator, but we still had fun in class. I finally thought I was happy! By the net scheduled visit from Ms. Rice, I had improved, and was better as an educator. She seemed much happier with my performance and I was finally on the right track! When my ten weeks at Twin Valley were done, I was sad to leave. I truly made a connection with my students and I knew I would miss them. The student planned a going away party for me after school on my last day, but mother nature had other plans, we had an early dismissal on the my last day, and all after school activities were canceled. A few of my students came down to say goodbye on their way to the buses, but I never got to talk to many some of them. There was no time to dwell in the sadness of leaving Twin Valley, because the following day was a banquet for my next placement, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance. I drove from Twin Valley all the way to Ridgway, PA to the site of the Elk Country Banquet. We set up on the Friday night that I left Twin Valley, and finished up on the following day. I was there for a long weekend, but I was able to catch up with my co-workers and meet some of the new members of the team. The following week we had a staff meeting were I was brought up to speed on many of the happenings during my time at Twin Valley, and I also shared some of my experiences. The next day, I had a Distance Learning Session with a class of 4th Graders from Mill Hall Elementary. Ms. Kurtz asked me to take lead on the session, and I did just that. It wasn't until the moment the session started that I realized that I was never truly myself at Twin Valley, when I was teaching these kids over Skype, I was truly myself, I was energetic, animated, and using all of these strategies that I learned about during my time at Penn State. But most importantly I was happy. My time at the Elk Country Visitor Center has been much different than I thought it would be. I was expecting to be sorting information, updating curriculum, and working with groups, not only did I do that, but I was asked about starting new programs and events, designing new informational signs, and much more! The thing I am most excited about is the CDE Training Day that I have been planning. We are inviting every FFA Chapter in PA to this event where students can receive extra training in Wildlife, Aquatic Resources, and Forestry CDE's. Eventually this event will offer training sessions on other areas as well. I have been hired on as the new Conservation Education Coordinator at the Elk Country Visitor Center, succeeding my cooperating supervisor, Barb Kurtz. A lot of my time has been looking into the curriculum she has developed during her time here, and updating it. The Keystone Elk Country Alliance seems to be excited to have me become a permanent member of their team, and I am excited to join them. There are so many ideas that I have, that might just come true! While comparing my experience with a split internship, I have to say that I love non-formal education like what I do at the visitor center. However, I also love formal education, and bonding with my students. I am at a point right now where I still don't fully know where life will take me. I am happy right now working in non-formal education. Who knows eventually, I may decided I want to teach in a classroom and switch to formal education. Nothing is forever. As my good friend Janae Bickhart always says, "If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life!" and right now, I am looking forward to a "work-free" life!