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March 1, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

Education majors confront challenges

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University education majors quickly find that today's classroom teaching is more than 2+2; Columbus sailed the ocean blue; the Whig party campaign slogan of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too"; and the correct spelling of "r-u-c-k-u-s" must be matched with the age-old lessons of the days of "duck and cover."

School and classroom safety are now a major part of a classroom teacher's routine responsibility, said Jim Preston, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood development. Preston supervises SRU student teachers in school districts across the region.

"Dr. Preston's student-teacher seminar course deals with understanding school policy concerning emergencies, making sure student teachers are working closely with their cooperating teachers on student referrals to appropriate mental health or emotional support professionals, awareness of the school district's crisis referral team on such topics as grief counseling and other areas," said Keith Dils, dean of SRU's College of Education.

"When we hold our first meeting for students going into their student teaching, we encourage them to review the school emergency policy at the school they will be going into," Preston said.

"We also contact the cooperating teachers and ask them to be sure to go over the policy with the student teacher. We want everyone to be on the same page and to understand the school's policy and procedures during an emergency. In today's climate, it is just a part of being a good teacher," he said.

"We have talked with administrators asking them to share such information along with individual responsibilities they expect from our student teachers as part of the student-teacher program," Preston said. "They readily agree, and in most schools regard our student teachers as just part of the school's faculty."

"Of course, all of our education students are required to have a first aid and safety class and be prepared to act before they undertake their student teaching assignments," he said. "All education students must be certified in adult and pediatric CPR [cardio-pulmonary resuscitation] and in how to use an AED [automated external defibrillator]," Preston said. "They must either take a safety course or earn their certification from the American Red Cross or other appropriate certifying agency, or they can use the program offered by the Aebersold Student Recreation Center."

"I am confident our students are prepared to respond to those issues," he said.

"Lately it has been a routine matter to meet with all of our student teachers to prepare them for any emergency, especially after Sandy Hook," Preston said.

His reference was to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people were killed by a lone gunman. Twenty of the dead were children.

"We have seen teacher responsibility ramped up. They now know they have to seek out the information if it is not presented. A phrase that is being shared at a number of schools is to remember to 'Get Out; Hide Out; Take Out,' which means teachers should get their students out the building, if possible; if not possible, they should hide out in the classroom; or, as a last resort, try to take out the intruder," Preston said.

"Our student teachers are already being involved in those kinds of drills at the schools they are visiting," he said. "Some schools are required to have such drills monthly. Some schools in the region have brought in law enforcement officials to fire blanks so staff will know what gunshots sound like; it is not like in the movies and on TV," he said.

Preston offers Saturday workshops for his student teachers and is thinking of adding a safety workshop to the list that already includes classroom management, technology - such as using interactive whiteboards and teaching online - and special education issues.

"I am considering inviting our campus police to the seminar to help show students what they might not get in every school district's training," he said.

Recent workshops promoted the co-teaching classroom model as outlined in the new textbook "Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School: Using the Co-Design Model," written by SRU's special education faculty Richael Barger-Anderson, Robert Isherwood and Joseph Merhaut.

"We modeled co-teaching between a student teacher and a cooperating teacher and allowed the student teachers and their cooperating teachers to join in the discussion," Preston said. "We know that classroom teachers are under pressure to make sure their class is progressing on schedule and are sometimes reluctant to turn over their class to a student teacher. By using the co-teaching practice, they can gain confidence in the student teacher and become more comfortable in gradually turning over their class."

"Any number of our courses also provide our education majors with information related to safety in the classroom. Those range from the "Family and Community Diversity and Partnerships" courses to those that include creating a safe physical environment conducive to learning components in other courses," Dils said. "We try to show our students how to implement positive behavioral interventions based on a functional analysis of behavior. We also show our students how to apply principles in social competence, social withdrawal, social role formation and maintenance and pro-social behaviors as well as how aggression can affect learning."

Pamela Soeder, SRU professor of elementary education and early childhood development, said work in her courses requires education students to look at the child's family and community as a way of being better prepared for today's classrooms.

"I want our student to understand how to build better home-school-community relations," she said.

"I encourage those going into education to look at the languages spoken in the home to better understand their student's culture. Those who are going to be teachers need to look at the resources that are available to parents - resources in the community. Are there jobs? Is there a food bank? Grocery? Library? Community Center? Counseling Center? Medical facilities?"

"As students are undertaking their student teaching, I want them to explore the neighborhood in which their school is located. Are there programs within the school or agencies in which the school can partner, for example a local senior citizen program or a PNC program in which the financial institution invests by providing volunteers to work with parents or to provide story time?"

"In today's schools, it is important to get to know the family and understand their original culture and values. I want SRU students to go into a school understanding the local families and the community in which the student's live so they can better work with the children. Those ideas should help drive their classroom teaching," she said.

"We try to implement this kind of learning with our sophomore education students as they visit three different schools, one in an urban setting, one in a semi-rural setting and one in a rural setting. We ask them to see how many banks there are. Is there a newspaper? What types of resources are there? What is the environment? Is there poverty? - They need to know more about their students in order to help them be successful."

"I find this is especially important for our students who come from a different environment. Using this plan, they get to see children living in areas they are not accustomed to, and they have the opportunity to see what schools are doing to protect children as well as make them successful," Soeder said.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.