See original blog for photos and links: Alli's Ag Ed Adventures: The final student teaching blog post.
This blog post could very easily come in two distinct parts – one of which I had already written 7 weeks ago. I could, out of simplicity, reflect on my two student teaching experiences: one in Pennsylvania and the other in Costa Rica. However, I won’t let myself off that easily. This is meant to be a deeper, more pensive reflection. For that, I choose to reflect on my student teaching experience in its entirety – regardless of how incredibly different my two placements were.
Several years ago, when I thought of “student teaching” as the final building block of my academic career and experiences, I thought of it with a very closed mind. I imagined myself, who at the time did not have much interest in teaching in the classroom, not enjoying the work needed to plan, execute, and assess formal learning. I imagined it would be a bit of a hardship, but that I would endure and benefit from it. I, as many people often find themselves, enjoy being “unique” and not conforming to the norm (some call this transcendentalism). When I first thought of completing student teaching abroad, I was more excited – mainly because this meant I would get to leave the “norm,” be “different,” and explore the world. The box I put student teaching in began to morph into a new shape, but one I could not quite distinguish.
When we selected our cooperating centers over a year ago and I began to plan for my international experience, I still had a somewhat closed mind... and I didn’t really know what the “box” would end up becoming since I had no idea what to expect from the international aspect of my student teaching. It was still novel: something nobody had done and something that I would get to help plan. The whole “domestic” aspect of my student teaching didn’t seem as zesty and fresh, but I was still getting excited about it – but only because I loved the region and town where I would be going. It’s a pretty shallow reason for getting excited about student teaching somewhere, but as I mentioned previously, I didn’t think I would like teaching. Meanwhile, my Costa Rica experience was developing very slowly, with little noticeable progress to latch on to... so I began to focus on Wellsboro a bit more.
Two cooperating center visits, a national convention trip, seven instructional units, over a hundred lesson plans, and one incredibly chaotic academic semester later, I found myself in the blustery cold of Wellsboro, PA. Having had the chance to get to know some of my Wellsboro students on the National FFA Convention trip, I was excited to spend time with those ten and get to know them more. But how could I have thought that these were the only good kids at Wellsboro? Within the first few weeks at my PA cooperating center, I began to fall in love with the agriculture classroom and the chance to see those kids every day.
A rough winter caused enough snow days to push back the marking period a whole week – one week less than what I had prepared for in the fall. Due to my short time at Wellsboro, I was required to complete all unit and lesson plans for my 7 weeks at Wellsboro prior to arriving (as opposed to the first 3 weeks of instruction expected by other student teachers – another “novelty” that I selfishly clung to). By the time I really got the hang of teaching and investing myself in my Wellsboro kids, I had to pack my student teaching life into 2 suitcases (with much fewer jackets and scarves) and head south. It was a bittersweet goodbye if I had ever had one. I learned that I loved teaching agriculture, and that I can make an impact on so many lives as a teacher. But I was still anticipating the “unique” box that I opened upon arrival to Costa Rica.
When I arrived, however, that box didn’t seem nearly as exciting as I had expected. I suppose one could say that I received my due wage for always wanting more non-conformist experiences. The “normal” student teaching experience was by far the more beautiful and rewarding of the two. But this doesn’t mean that my time in Costa Rica has been wasted. The 7 week experience, though my 3rd (and almost non-novel) time in Costa Rica, has definitely presented several new opportunities and challenges that I would have not have received in Pennsylvania. Student teaching here, however, has almost nothing in common with my student teaching in Wellsboro.
Again, my Costa Rica experience was not a negative one. In fact, I am sure the challenges and discomforts will be extremely beneficial to my future life and career. Having to practically organize my own internship experience brought me a lot of stress but also gave me the chance to develop responsibility and accountability for my life experiences. I didn’t really have a supervisor or mentor here, but rather appreciated greatly the ability to communicate globally with my support team at Penn State. My Costa Rica experience, which was to involve teaching college students, dramatically changed within the first two weeks of being here. Yet I still maintained a positive attitude as I refocused on the goals of the student teaching internship.
Practically serving as an “intern” to the extension and social action office at the university, I was given various small tasks (and sought out my own larger ones) to maximize my time and investments. I helped with several tours and high school events, observed agricultural classes, and assisted in a chemistry lab. I did get to teach students – high schoolers – about agriculture. Yet I didn’t feel as though I was leaving an impact or nearly closely working as diligently as I had at Wellsboro.
Upon request, I was able to work with a local rural primary school and, therefore, interact with youth in another capacity. After just 4 weeks of simply volunteering in the classroom and planning a community event for these kids, I found that they were quite fond of me. I received several letters and notes, in addition to hugs and “don’t leave”s when I said goodbye this morning; there arose again that feeling of achievement of being a “teacher” and positively impacting the lives of students, even if I didn’t formally teach much of anything to these kids. I am continuing to learn about the impact that educators have on youth.
Here, at the end of my two-part student teaching experience, I reflect and can state that there have been several unique opportunities, many challenges, and countless revelations of what I desire to do with my life. Student teaching is about testing the waters to see if we are meant to be educators. It is also an internship in which, given the chance, we can experiment with other career opportunities. But student teaching, above all, is just another life opportunity to love and serve others. I pray that my student teaching experience was as much of a reflection of this life task as I had hoped. I pray that the students I encountered feel just a little bit more valued and maybe, just maybe, that they learned something about agriculture. After all, I have the best job in the world: being an agricultural educator.