Letter: A student teacher’s perspective

Jordan Smelli

There’s something beautiful about the start of classes every fall. The weather is great, students and educators alike are excited to return to campus and an unquestionable aura of fresh-faced vitality seems to be everywhere.

It’s a time to take the next leap or perhaps to start anew. Try a club, change your major, conquer the world – whatever you want to do, you feel like you can do it. The start of the fall semester is one of the most empowering times of year, but this year, I’m seeing it from a unique perspective: I’m a student teacher.

Student teaching is the twilight zone for the education major, a probationary no-man’s-land that suspends me halfway between being a college student and being a working professional. I spend 16 weeks putting to use all the skills amassed during five years of education and music classes. My cooperating teacher is my classmate, professor and adviser all in one; teaching me how to teach and then turning the program over to me.

By finals week, I will hopefully have proven myself capable and earned my teaching license. Meanwhile, I’m still paying tuition and fees in addition to living expenses. I explain it to my friends as working a full-time job and paying $10,000 to do so.

While every education major goes through student teaching in their final semester, mine will not be a typical experience. First, as a music education major, I will be certified K-12. Most education majors are either elementary, K-6, or secondary, 5-12, but music is different. I spend eight weeks in an elementary school and eight in a secondary school – two very different student populations.

There’s also the matter of location. Most student teachers are placed in central Iowa, within commuting distance from the ISU campus.

I’m a born-and-raised Iowan and wanted to try something different, so I applied to outside placements. I am currently working at an elementary school in suburban Kansas City, and in October I will move to Rome, Italy, to teach high school choir at an American school.

Only a handful of student teachers are placed in other American cities, and fewer than 25 are placed in Iowa State’s various international sites. As a result, I have a unique experience ahead of me.

I’ve spent the last 19 years on the same side of the teacher’s desk, feeling that same wave of optimism as I started classes each fall. Now as I look at my students – wow, my students? – from the other side, I see it in them.

At the staff convocation two weeks ago, the superintendent spoke to all 3,000 teachers working in the district. He explained how our job as educators is always to leave “lasting impressions.” Similar to the butterfly effect, he offered examples of how the things we do for our students, even in elementary school, can grow to have tremendous power and influence as the student goes through life.

“What does it take to encourage the confidence that a student needs to succeed in life?”

When the superintendent asked this, I thought of you, my fellow ISU students. As this new school year springs out of the starting blocks, know that you are a teacher. Students, both younger and older, are watching and learning from each of you: 17-year-old freshmen all the way to my fellow super-duper-seniors — I’ll bet you upperclassmen didn’t know you had 15,000 little brothers and sisters.

Whether you’re living on campus or studying abroad, double majoring or open option, you have the power to leave your own lasting impression in the lives of those around you. As their teacher, do whatever it takes to give them the confidence to succeed this year.

Welcome back, Cyclones. Let’s go conquer the world.