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Teacher Cadet Program Goes Beyond Books

Until 18-year-old Stacey Slaight took part in the teacher cadet program, she could not exactly say why she liked some of her classes and not others.

The Potomac Falls High School student joined 13 other seniors in this year’s pilot program to learn about the teaching profession, a program also offered at Park View High School. "I can actually look at how they teach," she said. "You learn a lot how different students learn and how different teachers teach."

"These students are living it, and the students, our kids, have had a taste of it. You can’t get that out of a book or a case study," said Shirley Bazdar, director of Career and Technical & Adult Education.

The teacher cadet program, which is conducted through a year-long honors course, combines classroom work and real-life teaching experiences. The students began the year doing classroom work, learning about learners and different learning styles, along with lesson plan preparation and various teaching styles. In the fall and winter, they visited two elementary schools and one to two middle schools in the Potomac Falls cluster to observe teachers in the classroom, dividing into pairs to visit different classrooms at each of the schools.

THIS MONTH and next, the students are taking part in field experiences outside of the classroom instead of attending their morning block class. They are going to their chosen school to serve as a teacher assistant and help plan and teach lessons.

"From what they’re telling me, they absolutely love it," said Susan Corwine, family and consumer sciences teacher who helped implement the program, which is now under her direction. "It’s different from any of their classes, and it was something they were truly interested in."

"There’s not anything else in our school that works on teaching strategies," said Dana Robinson, a 17-year-old senior who plans to study kinesiology and education at James Madison University. "This is more hands-on teaching, and it helps get you ready for college. It’s a good organizational class, and it teaches you how to get organized."

Later in the school year, the students will study the school environment, the operation of schools and the role of administrators. At schools where they conducted the field experiences, they will shadow a teacher for most of the school day and an administrator at the school for a shorter period of time the same day.

"One of the things is to be able to grow your own," Bazdar said, adding that the program, which started in South Carolina in 1985 as a teacher recruitment program, aims to spark students’ interest in teaching early on in their educational careers. "That will be our biggest thrill is to see these students in their own classrooms. We would rather it be Loudoun County. … We’re selfish. We want [them] back in five years."

ON FRIDAY, the Potomac Falls students were honored at a reception hosted by Marymount University — Loudoun Campus, which is located in Countryside.

"We would like to say how proud of you we are for finishing the program," said Sharon Germain, faculty advisor for the Student Virginia Education Association (SVEA) at Marymount and the coordinator of educational clinical experiences. "We need teachers. … We hope you will stick with it and come back to Loudoun County," she told the students.

In spring 2002, Germain contacted Potomac Falls and Park View to find out how Marymount could help with the high school program. Germain partnered high school students with college students who volunteered to answer questions and provide advice through email correspondence, along with taking the high school students on a fall tour of the school to meet educators there.

"This is a follow-up," Corwine said about the reception, which gave the high school and college students a chance to meet in person. Five of the college students, who are all minoring in education, answered questions about the college teaching program at their school, which does not offer a major in education.

"It’s a lot of work. People outside teaching don’t know how much work it is," said Cara Leigh MacKnight, college student.

Corwine said she never hears the students in the class say, "Do we have to do that?" "That’s boring;" or "That’s a lot of work." "Any teacher’s dream come true is to have a class, all of them enthusiastic, wanting to learn and wanting to improve," she said. "Most of the students want to be a teacher. A couple of them might not major in education. … I don’t think the program and being in the schools has scared them away."

AS FOR Corwine, she is glad to have the first year of the program nearly completed and is already thinking about how she will improve the curriculum. "This was such a great group of students to work with," she said. "I have a lot of good memories from this class. It will always have a place in my heart because they were my first group. I was learning right along with them, and I let them know that."

The program may expand next school year to Broad Run, Stone Bridge and Heritage high schools and possibly to other high schools in the county the following year. Twenty-two students from Park View High School, the other pilot school for the program, are participating in the program this year, which is under the direction of the family and consumer sciences departments of both schools. Public schools staff are discussing establishing partnerships with other colleges and universities to allow the students who complete the program to earn college credit.

To participate in the program, students are required to fill out an application, write an essay, obtain three teacher recommendations and maintain a 3.0 GPA.