This story originally appeared in the September issue of the GēDUNK, Grove City College’s award-winning alumni magazine. Click here to see the entire issue.
Teachers who matriculate at Grove City College benefit from a distinctive program designed to build a bridge between theory and practice and develop teachers of impact. It is a different approach from most other schools when it comes to teacher training, according to Dr. Constance (Nelson ’93) Nichols, chair of the Education Department.
One of the program’s distinctives is an emphasis on field-based learning that puts Education majors in local classrooms throughout their four years instead of just a senior year stint as a student teacher. Every methods class includes an embedded field experience in which students apply what they are learning by working with children, observing experienced professional teachers, teaching a class for a day or a week or more.
“You should be in school applying what you are learning early, often, sustained, and supervised,” Nichols said. Exposure to the “real world” of education gives the students a sense of what the career is like and allows their professors, all of whom have classroom teaching experience, to discover the student’s strengths and weaknesses early so they can be addressed.
What faculty call the “spiral staircase of experience” is intended to build knowledge in a logical and measured way as students ascend in the program. The experiences require increasing responsibility to the students they are teaching and builds competence in advance of taking on a lead role in their senior-year student teaching placements. “Student teaching is the exclamation point, not a question mark at the end,” Nichols said.
“Practice what you preach was my takeaway,” said Anna Distefano ’21, who is in her first year teaching high school English in Culpeper, Va. She said she was “nervous, but an excited nervous” as she began her career but felt well-prepared by the College. “In our courses, professors modeled the practices and techniques we discussed. They didn’t just tell us what to do but showed us how to do it. It was the hands-on experiences that made the difference for me. Fields were a great way to implement what we were learning about in our courses.”
Another distinctive at Grove City College is a commitment to truth, be it biblical or temporal. Teaching is a science, built on data that underpin effective teaching and student success. “We stay on top of research and apply it immediately,” Nichols said of the faculty. “We are constantly evolving the way we teach, the tools that we use to help our students develop, and the content of our courses – not to stay ’popular,’ but to keep our focus on what the core truth is and define the best tools to help our students apply that truth in their teaching pedagogy. Great teacher preparation programs provide a bridge between theory and practice.”
That bridge extends beyond graduation. The College employs a four-plus-one advising model that lets alums tap their faculty advisers for assistance if they need it in the crucial first year on the job. For DiStefano, that’s a comfort. “I know that my school is supportive, and I also know that my professors at Grove City are always a call or email or even a text away.”
Caity Lavenberg ’19, a classroom intervention specialist with two years of professional experience at the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, under her belt, said her professors are still checking in on her. “They prepared me while I was in the program and now that I’ve graduated, they’re still making sure I’m doing okay,” she said. “I just felt so wrapped around and so supported all through the program and even into my career.”
Education majors and alumni also have access to unique professional development resources in the Hamilton Curriculum Library and Education Career Services Office. The library contains a host of educational resources for teachers-in-training, from books on education to blocks, games, and more. The office provides career-long assistance and guidance, from securing internships to getting into graduate school to managing career changes.
The College offers 25 Education majors, including programs like the state’s only Dual Elementary and Middle Level Major that leads to both PK-4 and 4-8 certification. Graduates have a 99 percent pass rate on teacher certification.