Teaching by doing is a central component in teacher education at Clayton State University. Learning revolves around the interplay between engagement in the college classroom and real-world experiential preparation. Teacher candidates sit behind the desk as the educated, stand in front of a class as the educator, and graduate with a comprehensive understanding of education.
“We’re not holding off on dessert,” says Dr. Ruth Caillouet, department chair of Teacher Education at Clayton State. “Instead of saying, ‘wait until you graduate,’ experiential learning shows them a tangible reason for what they are doing, and the future is very clear for what they will become.”
What they will become depends on the education program chosen by the candidate. Undergraduate candidates earn a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Grades Teacher Education (grades four through eight) or a bachelor’s in a specific discipline (English, History, Music or Mathematics) with an emphasis on teaching secondary education (grades six through 12). The music education program leads to a bachelor’s degree and K-12 certification.
Graduate level candidates pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching – English or a Master of Arts in Teaching – Mathematics. For undergraduates, the road to the classroom begins as early as the sophomore year. Candidates tutor, observe and teach short lessons two days a week at their assigned metro-Atlanta school. By spring semester of their senior year, candidates spend all day, every day, at the internship site with a mentor teacher. During that last semester, the candidate teaches full-time for six weeks – an invaluable class act.
“It is only through the experience of being in the classroom that one can truly know what it looks, feels, and smells like to be a teacher,” shares Clayton State class of 2011 alumna Chiara Browning, recipient of the Georgia Power New Teacher Assistance Grant and Social Studies department head at Hapeville Charter School. “I look at the experiential learning aspect as baptism by fire with a safety net. We are put into the classroom environment, but have a mentoring teacher there…. Having her there gave me the confidence to try things that I may not have if I had been alone.”
In addition to a mentor teacher, candidates pursuing an emphasis in teaching receive input from a Clayton State faculty supervisor within their discipline. Twenty faculty members from across mathematics, English, science, history and music devote a portion of their time to teaching the candidates in the Clayton State classroom and observing the candidates in the field.
“We have faculty going out to work with students and watch them teach,” says Caillouet. “It’s a more complete process than folks usually get to see. Often you don’t see the professional that the student becomes, but we get to see it a lot sooner.”
Experiential learning is also a major component in the graduate level Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) programs. As in the undergraduate programs, MAT candidates spend spring semester of their senior year in the field. Key differences between the baccalaureate and master’s level programs are the intensity of the graduate curriculum and an Action Research Project. Led by Clayton State’s Dr. Mari Roberts, the Action Research Project is designed to encourage candidates to see the classroom as a research environment, teaching them to observe and later present on classroom dynamics such as absenteeism, language acquisition, and other issues prevalent in the education process.
Whether it’s middle grades, secondary education, music education or the MAT, experiential learning is at the crux of teacher education at Clayton State University.
“All students learn better by ‘doing,’” explains Caillouet. “For teacher candidates, that ‘doing’ is crucial to developing the art of teaching. We can talk about being a good teacher for days and not accomplish anything close to having our students in the classroom learning on their feet, working with students and understanding it from that side of the teacher’s desk. Good teaching has to be taught, but it also has to be learned. It’s become the building block for the entire program.”
ClaytonState University’s teacher education unit was recently re-accredited through NCATE. To learn more about teacher education at Clayton State, visit www.clayton.edu/teachered.