Clemson students training to become teachers usually finish out their senior year student teaching in a district close to the University. The College of Education’s many district partnerships in the Upstate make these connections quick and easy, and it makes geographic sense in the busy life of a student teacher to be close to the school in which they are training.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. Leigh Martin oversees all aspects of the many field placements for College of Education students. She has seen increased requests from undergraduate and graduate students who want to be placed in schools far removed from Clemson’s backyard.
As these requests have increased, Martin and her team have worked to establish relationships with new districts and expand Clemson’s footprint in student teaching placements across the state.
“We want to be as accommodating as possible with students, especially when they have a good reason to be placed in a certain district,” Martin said. “It’s also our way of encouraging communities to ‘grow their own’ teachers, so if we have a student from the Lowcountry who wants to remain in their home district, we are going to do what we can to make it happen. That’s service to the state, plain and simple.”
An education major who wants to student teach in a Midlands school might use a placement as a “foot in the door” to a future job. Another student may need to avoid a lengthy commute from Clemson to their desired district outside the Upstate.
“We have one student who knows their future husband will be living and working in Charleston, and far be it from us to separate newlyweds and force a student to make a daily commute across the state to student teach,” Martin said.
Undergraduate students pursuing a teaching career attend the University full-time typically. Still, the process can be a little more complicated for graduate students earning their Master of Arts in Teaching. Many of these students are career changers, so asking them to simply quit a job or relocate for five months to earn a teaching degree is a hard sell.
The process is much simpler if a student from Chester or Beaufort can still earn the Clemson degree they want through the online MAT program and complete student teaching in a school close to home.
Sidnei Aguilar is an undergraduate and soon-to-be graduate of Clemson’s early childhood education program. She plans to live and work in Greenwood after graduation, so she requested to student teach in Greenwood 50 to familiarize herself with the district and curriculum.
She said she considers it an honor to be the only Clemson student in Greenwood 50. Even though she is a bit removed from campus, she constantly works with peers through online interactions, and faculty have been as easy to reach and work with as they were during her earlier years at the University.
“I am ecstatic to say that I have accepted a position within Greenwood 50 at Mathews Elementary for next school year,” Aguilar said. “I am even more blessed that it is in the same school and same grade, and I will be right next door to my cooperating teacher, who will become my mentor teacher. Being in my placement this semester has allowed me to get to know the curriculum, the school, my team and the overall environment of this school.”
Mills Murphy is completing his student teaching in Aiken, South Carolina, and requested to do so because the area is home and where he hoped to teach eventually. He said Martin and her team made the process simple, but because it was a new placement for the College, he had to meet with them before the placement to sort everything out.
Murphy has secured a job teaching eighth-grade South Carolina history at the soon-to-be-opened Highland Springs Middle School in the Aiken County Public Schools district. He said understanding what teaching is like in the district will be invaluable in his new job.
“I’ve gotten to know and work closely with a lot of people who have helped me achieve my goal of being employed in Aiken County,” Murphy said. “I’m excited to be a first-year teacher in a brand-new school, and this placement has done a lot to prepare me for a future in secondary education.”
Martin said the College looks forward to exploring new placements for students, and there are plans to add several outside of the Upstate and Midlands for the 2023-2024 academic year.
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