Students aiding educators

HELPING HAND — Fairmont High School junior Sarah Justice, center, is a cadet teacher for fifth-grade teacher Ross Long at Fairmont Elementary School. Justice is seen helping some students.

This is the second year that a cadet teaching class has been offered at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School. Family and consumer science teacher Wendi Tonder heard about cadet teaching programs at a conference and inquired about starting one locally.

“It’s a program developed to help with the teacher shortage, but it also gives students interested in teaching the opportunity to be in a classroom and see what it’s like,” Tonder said.

This semester, there are 20 juniors and seniors in the class. Two days per week, they are in a classroom at the high school, but on the other three days they are in a classroom helping a teacher. There are 18 students who go to Fairmont Elementary and two who visit St. John Vianney.

Before school began, Tonder sent out an email to teachers at the elementary school asking whether they had some projects with which students could help, and whether the timing would work out.

Tonder gives her students the choice of working with children in grades K-2, 3-6 or with special education children. She then tries to place a student with a teacher with whom they will do well.

Tonder sends out emails to participating teachers each of the three days the cadet students will be in their classrooms. Tonder also goes to the elementary school once a week to briefly observe her students at work.

As the program has become more well known, Tonder has had other teachers reach out to her and ask whether she has a cadet teacher available to help them. Similarly, she has had students in her class ask if there is a specific class in which they can work.

The cadet teacher helps with whatever the classroom teacher needs. This typically ranges from working one on one with a student; working with a small group or in large group activities; or helping the teacher grade papers, hang up posters or complete other chores.

“It really gives the students an opportunity to see whether or not teaching is something they want to do,” Tonder explained.

She reported that most of the students who take the class are either interested in becoming teachers or having a career involving children.

Second-grade teacher Patty Fitzgerald has senior Clair Cutler helping her this semester.

“I wish I had her with me every day,” said Fitzgerald, explaining that Cutler has been a big help to her.

“They’re developing positive relationships with these kids who maybe don’t have an older sibling to look up to,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re role models for these kids.”

“I like the opportunity to work with the students,” said Cutler, adding, “I wasn’t thinking of a career in teaching initially but now I’m changing my mind.”

One of the bigger projects a cadet teacher needs to do is create or facilitate his or her own lesson plan, which they work on with the help of their participating teacher.

While her class is an elective, Tonder still needs to grade the students. She sends an evaluation form to participating teachers, but keeps it short.

“I really don’t want to make this more stressful for the teacher,” she explained.

The students also get points for showing up to the school and helping their teacher and classroom.

“If they’re not going to be able to make it, it’s their responsibility to let me know, as well as the teacher they work with,” Tonder said.

On the days the students are in Tonder’s classroom, they talk about the different types of learners and how to handle different behaviors. Guest speakers also visit to talk about appropriate subjects.