Student Teachers Make the Grade
A tight-knit cohort of five Westmont student teachers shared inspirational stories about their experiences in the classroom at an emotional Celebration of Teaching April 28 on campus. Linda Ngo, Sam Cordes, Hannah Boelter, Simon Janzen and Shae Caragher, who all earned California Preliminary Credentials, spoke at the event, held for the first time since 2019.
“Teaching is joyful and takes heart, compassion, patience, curiosity, skills, pedagogy as well as oodles of energy and courage,” says Michelle Hughes, Westmont professor of education. “And teaching is intellectually demanding work, it’s emotional work and it’s inspiring work.”
Student teaching during a pandemic meant wearing masks for most of the school year at Westmont and in their schools. They got tested weekly for COVID, were vaccinated and boosted and overcame student absences. Some had to teach on Zoom while in quarantine.
“They’re passionate, ready and eager to teach and courageously answered the call and challenge to teach and invest in K-12 students through the pandemic,” Hughes says. “These student teachers and their cooperating teachers kept sane.”
Ngo, who spoke about “Pushing Through Pressure,” said she felt many times that she was not enough. “Throughout this year, every time I felt the pressure of life or teaching, feeling like I would just crumble, those around me reminded me that I was doing it, trying my best, and making a difference. Seeing the complete joy and pride on students’ faces when their iPad updates with their score reminds me how lucky I am to be teaching.”
Cordes, a future U.S. history high school teacher, said he admired the way the teachers he observed navigated the unknown with grace and style. In his talk, “Education as a Bridge,” he explained how he tried to make history less intimidating and more inspiring and fun. “For many students in my U.S. history course, the unknown is everywhere,” he says. “It may take the form of having a question about the Gilded Age or perhaps understanding economic concepts of inflation. It has been a blessing to make U.S. history accessible to students and move them from the unknown toward knowledge.”
Boelter, a kindergarten teacher, sensed her students’ frustration that their art projects failed to look exactly like the one on the board. “Their George Washington face and hat kind of looked like an Eiffel Tower sitting on top of a garden gnome,” she said. “At that point, I paused the lesson and told my students my own version of an art tip I learned from Bob Ross. I told them it’s OK to make happy mistakes and that every line gone askew can be added to and become a beautiful and unique version of the original.”
When Janzen took over two college-prep physics classes, he worked to make them fun, exciting and real. “I wanted students to look at something happening and know why it worked, or at least ask why it worked,” he said. In his talk, “The Power of the Demo,” he explained the importance of engaging demonstrations, including experiments with water balloons and a game of tug-of-war. “Students are naturally curious and want to know what happens next, but it’s hard when scary math surrounds the cool physics,” he said. “That’s why I worked so hard to push students to stretch their curiosity and their creativity in my classroom.”
Caragher is a big fan of crying. In her talk, “Creating Space for Laughing when Everyone is Crying,” she said that during her time as an English student teacher, every one of her students had something to cry and laugh about. “Teaching is both life-giving and so draining,” she says. “It’s exciting and encouraging, hopeful and terrifying and discouraging, and I sometimes feel hopeless,” she said. “It’s simultaneously the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done and also the hardest and craziest thing I’ve ever done. Teaching is both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.”
Cooperating teachers included Amy Donnell of Hope Elementary (Boelter), Rachel Gonzales-Harris of Cleveland Elementary (Ngo), Kelly Savio and Hannah Krieshok of Dos Pueblos High School (Caragher), Sarah Bardin of Dos Pueblos (Cordes) and Kerry Miller of Dos Pueblos (Janzen).