October 21, 2021

Building leaders

Student teaching an ever-changing field 150 years later

Photos by Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

SUNY Cortland student teacher Megan Dineen gives a lesson Wednesday in teacher Shannon Bush’s kindergarten class in Randall Elementary School in Cortland. The college is entering its 150th year of student teaching this semester.

Megan Dineen repeatedly urged a group of kindergartners on Wednesday to stay on topic and focus on the task at hand — a lesson she had created about the differences and similarities between plants and animals.

Children squirmed, called out random facts, and occasionally were sent to retrieve “fuzzies,” a form of discipline in Shannon Bush’s kindergarten class at Randall Elementary School.

Classroom management is the hardest part of teaching, Bush said, and SUNY Cortland student teachers like Dineen get a crash course in it when they are placed in the classroom full-time for their final semester.

Dineen is one of about 230 student-teachers from SUNY Cortland’s School of Education placed throughout the state — some near Cortland — for experience in the ever-changing field of student teaching.

SUNY Cortland’s School of Education celebrates its 150th anniversary of student teaching this semester with events on campus through April.

Associate Dean Ronnie Casella said student teaching has seen many changes over the years and will continue to see more.

To be certified to teach in New York, students must complete student teaching, which includes two or more placements.

Besides the kindergarten classroom, where Dineen is now, she’s also experienced the day-care setting, a pre-school classroom, fifth grade and will be placed in the sixth-grade classroom before she graduates in May.

SUNY Cortland student teacher Megan Dineen discusses animals with a group of kindergartners at Randall Elementary School Wednesday afternoon. From left are Jazmine Austin, Izabella Sosa Juarez, Dineen and Elliott Davis.

Full-time student-teaching assignments happen at the end of the education program, when students have completed other coursework.

An emphasis on diversity of placement is a big change the school of education has seen over the years, Casella said. Dual certifications are becoming increasingly common.

“Students have to have an urban experience, a rural experience and a suburban experience and experience with students with disabilities,” he said.

Dineeen is getting certified to teach from birth to sixth grade and she also has a concentration in mathematics. A broad spectrum of expertise gives her a step up in interviews, she said, and allows for flexibility without changing her goal — teaching kindergarten to fourth grade.

Other changes over time include the demographic of the teachers — there are more men in the field now — and coursework includes more awareness of family and community and social problems, Casella said.

According to the state Education Department, there were 210,496 public school teachers as of June 30, 2016. Teachers remain disproportionately white, even in the most diverse districts of New York City schools, according to chalkbeat.org.

But it is the rural schools that are having the most difficulty catching up with the shifting demographics of students, Casella said.

About 150 years ago, teachers had kids who were pretty similar to one another, he said. They were mostly girls, as the boys worked on farms.

With increased urbanization and immigration over the 19th century, teachers started teaching children who spoke different languages or had different customs.

“They were no longer able to teach the way they used to and have the same impact, so schools of education changed to kind of bring these teachers up to speed so they could address urbanization and immigration and kids with different languages,” he said.

Areas like Cortland or the suburbs outside Syracuse and Binghamton are experiencing the greatest changes in diversity, he said, because urban areas are already diverse.

Dineen said lessons on diverse learning and special education have been incorporated throughout her curriculum.

Teachers will continually be asked to do more, Casella expects.

“We can no longer accept that some students make it in school and some don’t, which is how we thought about education in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” he said.

Schools are also faced with addressing changing expectations, like getting more girls into math and science fields, integrating students with disabilities into regular classrooms, teaching about bullying and the dangers of drugs, he said.

Dineen is ready to take it all on — at the younger grades.

“Their minds are so fresh at this age,” she said. “They’re ready to learn and the curriculum is interesting and the age is so fun and outgoing. They’re really enjoyable to teach.”