University of Illinois agricultural science education students are finding out what it is like to be a high school agriculture instructor in classrooms across the state.
Agricultural Sciences Education Program Coordinator Debra Korte said student teaching confirmed she wanted to be an agriculture teacher. She said teaching agriculture appeals to students who enjoy a variety of agricultural topics and working with people.
"You get the best of both worlds," she said. "You get to help shape and develop young students, and you get the opportunity to help them discover career paths they are going to explore later in life. You also get to teach them real-world skills such as responsibility, teamwork, leadership, and public speaking."
To determine where they will student teach, students go through an application and interview process during the fall semester of their junior year. Students select three schools where they would like to complete their student teaching experience. Then they are interviewed by a panel of individuals, consisting of agriculture teachers, faculty, and education partners. The students are evaluated based on their personality and competency to match them up with the ideal school.
"We put them in a school where we think they will not only continue to enhance their strengths, but also improve areas in which they feel the least confident in teaching," Korte said. "Often students are placed in one of their top choices."
Korte said U of I students aren't limited by location or proximity.
"Our goal is to utilize extremely successful agricultural education programs throughout the state," she said. "We have been able to partner with agriculture teachers who do a wonderful job working with and training student teachers. Over the years, we have worked really hard to be able to find people that are going to do a great job, and we make sure to place students there."
Students observe their supervising teacher during their first two weeks in the classroom. Then the student begins to teach one or two classes during the third week and gradually picks up another class each week until they are teaching all of the courses. After three to five weeks of teaching all the classes, the student stops teaching a class each week until the supervising teacher regains all of his or her classes.
"Student teaching is key to the agricultural education curriculum because it provides students who desire to become teachers an opportunity to apply their lessons while developing better teaching techniques," said Emma Meyer, a student teacher at Tri-Valley in Downs. "While in college, we have an opportunity to practice teaching with our peers, which is a valuable experience, but nothing compares to actually teaching a lesson to high-school students."