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Students Refine Their Teaching Skills in Greenwood District 50 Classrooms

Liteka Hill with students
Liteka Hill, of Greenwood, an elementary education major at Lander University, works with third-grade students at Mathews Elementary School in Greenwood as part of a field work assignment enabling her to receive firsthand classroom teaching experience.

Lander University and Greenwood County School District 50 have expanded a relationship that gives teacher candidates firsthand classroom teaching experience.

Dr. Dava O'Connor, chair of Lander's Department of Teacher Education, said 60 Lander juniors and seniors are assigned to complete 50 hours a semester of field experience in one of six District 50 schools. The field work precedes the practice teaching they will perform as second-semester seniors. O'Connor said, "We began with two schools last year and the initiative worked so well that we and District 50 administrators agreed to expand it."

Second-semester juniors and first-semester seniors majoring in early childhood education or elementary education, partner with classroom teachers under the supervision of a Lander teacher education faculty member. The schools in the initiative are the Early Childhood Development Center, Mathews, Merrywood and Springfield elementary schools, and Westview and Northside middle schools.

Cooperating teachers at the six schools volunteered to participate and the principal at each school made the appointments.

O'Connor said the initiative has benefits for all concerned. "The teacher candidates get to see the connection between the theory they learned in the classroom and actual practice." The schools benefit because the Lander students assist cooperating teachers with such things as working with students who need one-on-one attention.

Liteka Hill, of Greenwood, a junior elementary education major, is assigned to teacher Valencia Tiller's third-grade class at Mathews Elementary School. She said she spends two days a week doing a variety of classroom tasks, including preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and teaching math and reading.

Tiller said she meets with Hill periodically to discuss her classroom techniques and point out her strengths and areas where she might need some improvement. Hill said her work at Mathews is giving her hands-on experience and a better understanding of classroom routines.

Senior Ashleigh Battles, of Lexington, is gaining firsthand experience in the classroom of fourth-grade teacher Traci McKee. She said she appreciates McKee's supervision and guidance when she is in her classroom three days a week. Like Tiller, and the other cooperating teachers, McKee observes Battles' techniques and makes suggestions based on her 17 years of experience as a classroom teacher.

According to Mathews principal Doris Watson, the Lander teacher candidates and the cooperating teachers are learning from each other. "It's a joy to have them here. They bring enthusiasm and provide extra support to the teachers." She said the experience exposes students to the realities of teaching and helps them decide if teaching is right for them before they make a career commitment.

Interestingly, principal Watson and cooperating teachers Tiller and McKee are all graduates from Lander's teacher education program. Watson also has a business degree from Lander.

According to Dava O'Connor, District 50 hires the largest percentage of Lander's teacher graduates. District 51 in Ware Shoals, District 52 in Ninety Six and the Abbeville school district also provide opportunities for student teacher placements.

O'Connor said the initiative has an impact on the Lander faculty members involved in the program. "Most of our faculty members averaged 15 or more years of teaching experience in public or Montessori schools before coming to Lander." She added, "The initiative is a reality check for them because classroom dynamics beginning in kindergarten and up through high school are changing constantly."