Let’s agree that great teachers need certain innate qualities such as integrity, compassion, confidence, and a willingness to continue to learn and grow. They also need a depth of knowledge of their subject matter and instructional strategies appropriate to their students’ age, and a strong belief in the capacity of students to learn. Great teachers know that students perform best when the best is expected of them.
Penny Finley, an instructor in the College of Education, agrees, placing “enthusiasm, classroom management and lesson design” high on her list of essential qualities. Debra Giambo, an associate professor of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), said, “Great teachers know how to use the strategies they learn to help their students become independent learners.”
Indeed, all faculty in FGCU’s College of Education are committed to educating great teachers. And much like the students they mentor, they, too, are committed to learning and growing.
To determine the best way to do that, COE faculty and university administrators held meetings with education representatives from Collier and Lee counties and launched the resulting Honors Immersion Program last fall.
Carolynne Gischel, assistant professor of special education, oversees the pilot program. “The goal of any program is to prepare teachers to be confident, effective and successful in their field,” she said, “and to raise student achievement in our schools. Our discussions, then, centered around the question, ‘How best can we incorporate field work into the program to have the most impact on our students?’”
Finley’s honors course, “Professional Teaching Practice,” was one of three courses required by students during the fall semester. She described the program as an “immersive learning experience” that gives participants a deep appreciation of the challenges, strategies and rewards of their chosen profession.
Eleven honors students enrolled in the program. In the fall, each was assigned a classroom at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Naples; this spring, the students reconvened at Pinewoods Elementary School in Estero.
The pilot program is structured something like this: working with their honors course professor – Finley last fall, Giambo this spring – students collaborate on projects to benefit their students, their elementary classroom teacher mentor and, when possible, their community. Students dedicate three full days each week at their assigned school. They not only work in the classroom, they also take the required honors course plus two additional courses relevant to their major. Unique to this program, each course is delivered at the elementary school by FGCU professors, who meet with the FGCU students in a dedicated classroom or conference room at the elementary school. Unlike a typical field experience, the total immersion model allows students to undergo a much more intensive classroom experience – getting to know their students, learn classroom management and the like, much earlier in their college career.
As it happens, Everglades Wonder Garden was developing a learning center to educate visitors about the garden’s abundant plant, animal, and bird life. Enter the 11 FGCU honors students. The result: topic-specific binders or learning kits, complete with a PowerPoint presentation, instruction booklets, original children’s books written by the FGCU students, and integrative lessons for use by classroom teachers, home school groups, and the community.
This spring, the students working with Giambo at Pinewoods explored ways to address the needs of ESOL students during the course “Second Language Acquisition, Communication, and Culture.”
Similar to the fall semester, students identified a need and developed, in this case, three potential projects to address those needs. The first involved a series of educational kits focused on literacy and language activities an ESOL student could work on independently. The second was a “books on tape” project with FGCU students reading age-appropriate titles that elementary students could follow. The third idea involves FGCU students writing books that would incorporate words in the story that sound and look similar in two languages and mean the same thing.
Gischel, Finley and Giambo believe the pilot program has more than demonstrated its worth in terms of the value of the total immersion experience for FGCU student participants. Its overarching success, however, is best found in its heart – its students who are passionate about teaching, empowered to create and encouraged to use their creations to benefit their own students and the community.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]
One student’s view
A junior majoring in elementary education, Anne Skinner is unreservedly positive when sharing her experience about the COE Honors Immersion Program.
Last fall, Skinner, as a member of the honors pilot program, partnered with Everglades Wonder Garden to help produce materials for the organization’s learning center. Each student created learning kits based on a plant, animal or bird found in the garden. Skinner focused on palm trees. Her kit included five lesson plans, hands-on activities, a flash drive – everything a teacher would need to engage students in an in-depth lesson on palm trees. This spring, she is working to produce materials to benefit ESOL students.
“Confidence and the importance of positive reinforcement” are two of her biggest take-aways, she said. She considers the pilot program “a little more in depth than a traditional internship,” identifying the additional time commitment and the honors component as contributing factors.
She speaks highly of the ways in which her teacher mentors used her services. “At times, I conducted morning classes,” she said, “reading and writing and interacting with the students. Sometimes the teacher included me in the lesson plan; other times I brought my own activities. In this way, I was able to get to know each student on a personal level and to implement my own ideas.
“I think communication is a big quality of a great teacher. Whether one-on-one or with the whole class, good communication is important. Students need to have a good idea of what they are supposed to be doing when they’re directed.” Skinner also emphasized the “importance of fun. And the importance of being interactive. I believe students learn more when the teacher shares new ideas and interacts with them,” she said.