Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series following a student teacher through a semester in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
LONGMONT — Erin Byerly Henkels looks like she could be one of her high school students: petite, athletic build, beaded bracelets, messy ponytail.
Yet the 27-year-old with two bachelor’s degrees is the black buttoned-up dress shirt among puffy coats, hoodies and iPods.
Henkels is a student teacher at Silver Creek High School this semester. She is teaching two sections of sophomore English and, as the semester progresses, will also teach two sections of 12th-grade English under her cooperative teacher, Cara Luchies.
She begins her day at 7:15 a.m. and heads home after the final bell at 2:15 p.m., teaching students, planning lessons and compiling documents reflecting her rationale for “everything I do” in the classroom, she said.
“Being a teacher is a full-time job. Being a student teacher is a full-time job,” said Mike Jones, a human resource specialist who helps match candidates who want to student teach in the St. Vrain Valley School District with the best-suited teacher and school.
Student teachers are “planning lessons, being in class, doing assessments with students, attending meetings with other teachers, assembling portfolios and finishing pieces of information to turn back in (to professors) for final credit,” he said.
“They work hard.”
And they don’t get paid.
Henkels, a North Carolina native who is working as a student teacher until January, decided to pursue teaching after three years at a local nonprofit.
Past jobs as a ski instructor and watching her husband, a Westview Middle School teacher, made Henkels realize that teaching might be her calling, too.
With undergraduate degrees in English and psychology, she enrolled in the master’s education program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in which she can simultaneously obtain her teaching certificate. She will graduate in May.
Just like any rookie on the job, Henkels said at first she was questioning her decision and was nervous.
“A lot of new teachers go through this — ‘Oh, my God, did I make the wrong decision? What if it’s terrible? What if the kids hate me? What if? What if? What if?’” she said. “But I try not to have too many expectations about it. I didn’t want to be wrong about it, I guess.”
Henkels said she was surprised by some of the challenges she has faced, such as crowded classrooms, paperwork and time management.
“I thought I had it down but ... not at all,” she said with a laugh. However, teaching is “really rewarding because it is so challenging.”
“You have to be creative every day to get to know the kids so they trust you and so they’re willing to do more things and trust themselves to do more things,” Henkels said.
Silver Creek principal Sherri Schumann, who works with Jones’ staff to pair supervising teachers with potential student teachers at her school, said the goal is to make the student teacher comfortable and confident in the classroom setting.
“Student teaching is a difficult position to be in because you’re taking over someone’s class and trying to learn the pacing and sequencing of teaching,” Schumann said. “But with the kind of staff at Silver Creek, they’re very willing to help in that process and are definitely qualified to do that.”
Jones said he receives 30 to 40 applications from student teacher candidates each semester. Last year, the district had 36 student teachers but typically has 12 to 15 each year.
The district also hires new teachers who have been student teachers there. This year, the district a dozen new teachers who did a student-teaching stint at a St. Vrain Valley school.
Student teaching “isn’t something we take lightly,” Jones said.
“When a student teacher is coming into a school, we want to make sure it’s a good match for the school and ultimately a good match for the district,” he said. “It’s an important role we can play to increase that professionalism within the teaching ranks.”
This investment in student teachers, it is hoped, will yield stellar teachers for this school district, he added.
“I think within the first few days you can tell if it’s going to be OK as a career move or not,” Henkels said.
And is it?
“I think so.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.