The South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) designed their Teacher Cadet Program to encourage high school students with exemplary interpersonal and leadership skills to consider teaching as a career. If CERRA had an end result in mind with the program, that product would probably closely resemble the career of Lisa Hall.
Hall took teacher cadet classes in high school, which motivated her to become a teacher. That alone would make her a success story for the program, but she is now also a math teacher and teacher cadet instructor at Greenville Tech Charter High School.
As one of several teacher cadet instructors that have partnered with Clemson University to deliver the program in schools, she’s arguably the best-case scenario for what the program can produce: a teacher-cadet-turned-teacher-cadet-instructor.
“I do what I do with everything inside of me; I love teaching,” Hall said. “I was asked to be a teacher cadet instructor and I knew it would be a lot of work, but it was so exciting to have that opportunity. I knew what I liked in the program and how I could deliver it.”
Hall said the key to the program for her is understanding who her students are as learners. Once she gains that knowledge, she can then help them understand more about themselves and how they would, in turn, teach in a class of their own.
She said the most successful students in the program are those that are willing to be open and discuss classroom hurdles and challenges honestly. Hall said the students who do that are quicker to experience that meta “light bulb” moment when they start to understand why teachers in current and past grades approached a lesson the way that they did.
Hayden Woerner, a teacher cadet instructor from Powdersville High School, said her students who come to this realization while they’re still in a high school setting tend to get more out of it because they’re seeing it in action. She believes this gives them an advantage when they finally embark on a college career centered on education and later when taking control of their own class.
“I have my students reflect on what they see happening in their classrooms so that they can relate it to what we’re doing in class,” Woerner said. “It’s funny because it makes me extra aware of how I’m teaching because when my teacher cadet students are in other classes, they’ve got a more critical eye on me.”
The benefit doesn’t just come from experience; students also receive actual college credit for their work. Students who take the first teacher cadet course, Experiencing Education, and are accepted to Clemson will ultimately receive two credit hours for Orientation to Education. Students who take the second teacher cadet course, Educational Psychology, will receive three elective credit hours.
Leigh Martin serves as executive director for field and clinical partnerships and outreach, which allows her to work with teacher cadet instructors such as Hall and Woerner. Martin doesn’t dictate the curriculum so much as she offers suggestions for what might be beneficial for those students who might transition to Clemson University after high school graduation.
Woerner said that a great deal of the material her students develop comes from the blueprint Martin provides; activities that produce the first steps in a future teacher’s “educational philosophy” can give students a head start. Woerner goes so far as to suggest to her students that the documents that comprise her students’ “educational manifesto” should be stored on hard drives or in the cloud for future use so that her students don’t have to recreate the wheel when they get to college.
Martin said her goal with teacher cadet instructors is to remain fairly hands off while remaining available to bounce ideas off of and to assist whenever possible. Martin is more directly involved when visiting teacher cadet classes to answer questions directly from students or during College Day, which sees teacher cadet students come to Clemson University to learn about College of Education programs directly.
Martin said the program not only gives students a realistic picture of what a career in education is like, but it also helps to streamline the process for those students who end up at Clemson University.
“It’s a great initial taste for students of what teaching is really about; it’s helpful for students entering college whether they end up pursuing a degree in education or not,” Martin said. “It is also a great way for our college to build relationships with partner districts and schools that benefit everyone in the long run.”
Hall and Woerner agree with Martin’s sentiment about providing a realistic picture of education as a career for students. They both see that what they model for their students is the best way to demonstrate the biggest perk of their job, the one perk on which just about any educator can agree. “I just always fall back on telling them the truth: that the many rewarding relationships I’ve enjoyed with students makes the job more than worth it,” Woerner said. “Showing them how much I’m invested in their success is the best example of that I can provide.”
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