The Next Step to Teaching

For some Berkeley students, Cal Teach doesn’t end with graduation. They go on to complete a teaching credential, spending a semester as a student teacher in a Bay Area classroom. Those taking just a course or two in their last semester can even do their student teaching before graduation.

“Student teachers are expected to be the instructor from the first day,” says Cal Teach student advisor Laura Imei, who supports students during their application process, school placements, and search for a teaching position after completing the credential program. “Our successful student teachers embrace the role as a professional. They see themselves as teachers and assume that role in class.”

Cris DeLeon and Whitney Pol are among that group. Cris is a current student teacher at the Aspire California College Preparatory Academy (“Cal Prep”) in Berkeley, the same school where Whitney completed her student teaching last fall and has worked since then as a long-term substitute teacher.

“My mentor teacher is open to meeting with me and giving feedback after every lesson I teach. It’s nice to have that support and not just be thrown into teaching,” says Cris, who completed his math major and Cal Teach minor in December and started teaching pre-calculus to juniors in the public charter school the next month.

Like all Cal Teach student teachers, Cris also spends two hours each week in an Apprentice Teaching seminar that provides a supportive and collaborative setting in which to share experiences in the classroom. After each meeting, the student teachers stay an extra hour for their “Supe Group,” or supervised teaching support group.

“It’s their time to talk about issues in school and vent in a safe place if necessary,” Laura explains. “Though it’s not a requirement for accreditation as a teacher, we made Supe Group mandatory for our credential program because students need this time outside the academic component of the program.”

Whitney agrees that Supe Group is a good idea. She says, “You can speak about what’s happening in the classroom, problem solve, and help each other. It helped me a lot.”

As a student teacher, Whitney was in a freshman-year integrative science class. The integrative biology degree she completed at Berkeley in May 2013 had prepared her well to teach the content, a mix of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics. She’d also done three Cal Teach field placements—at Cal Prep, Berkeley High School, and a middle school in nearby Richmond—before she started.

Still, going from that experience to student teaching was a big leap. In field placements, Cal Teach students are in the classroom just a few hours each week, teaching a lesson or two but primarily assisting a mentor teacher. As a student teacher, Whitney was there every day for two periods, observing one class and teaching the other.

“The field placements were helpful in gaining a sense of what a classroom is like from a teacher’s perspective, and planning one lesson was a good steppingstone to doing it as a student teacher,” Whitney says. “When I went into student teaching, I realized that teachers plan lessons on a daily basis. It’s amazing to me now that it once took me a semester to plan a lesson.”

Both Cris and Whitney learned from the examples of the mentor teachers they worked with at the school. They plan to adopt the insights and practices they gained through the experience in their own classrooms.

“My mentor teacher has given me an opportunity to develop my own lessons. Now I have a set structure and routine for the students. When I start my own teaching, I’ll have something I’ve presented to a class that’s been reviewed by an experienced teacher. I also love his teaching style. He has a good balance between being strict and being friendly,” says Cris, who has enjoyed his student teaching experience so much that he hopes to work for an Aspire school after he earns his credential.

For Whitney, being able to observe how her mentor teacher managed a classroom effectively was a particular benefit. She and her mentor teacher are still in close contact: They’ve been sharing space in a single classroom, although Whitney has her own students now that she holds a Preliminary Single-Subject Teaching Credential.

Staying on at the school has allowed her to work with the same group of 32 students she knew as a student teacher. Unlike before, she also attends parent conferences, participates in professional development, and meets regularly with her science department colleagues.

“This has been another steppingstone for me to experience so when I teach at a school next year, I’ll know what’s involved,” Whitney says.

This fall, she’ll have her first opportunity to be a full-time teacher at the start of a school year. Her goal is to find a teaching position in Los Angeles, the community where she grew up. Whitney says, “Eventually, I’d love to go back to my high school. There’s a certain connection students have with a teacher when they know the teacher came from the same school and understands what they’re going through.”

For now, she’s focused on continuing to develop as a teacher. That’s leading her to prefer a smaller school, although she’d like to work in one that’s connected to the Los Angeles Unified School District and serves diverse students.

As she looks ahead, her time as a student teacher in the Cal Teach credential program continues to influence her. Whitney explains, “My experience inspired me to continue teaching. I better understand the purpose of teaching: to help students reach their highest potential. Seeing that growth in students reinforces why I became a teacher.”