KOKOMO, Ind. — When Ashley Spraker was a little girl, she played school with her Barbie dolls, dreaming of the day she would be a teacher in her own classroom.
She confirmed that decision her first semester as an elementary education student at Indiana University Kokomo, thanks to the program's focus on early field experiences.
"I worked in elementary classrooms my very first semester I was here," Spraker said. "That experience let me know I had made the right career choice, and gave me experience working with kids right away."
Tara Kingsley, assistant professor of education, said future teachers will have at least 200 hours in classrooms before student teaching.
"It's one of the unique aspects of our School of Education," she said. "We place our students in the field, and we place them in the field a lot. They learn to be outstanding teachers by teaching. Our program allows our students to experience the profession before they become teachers."
Kingsley teaches her reading methods class at Pettit Park Elementary School, a one-to-one technology elementary school in the Kokomo-Center Schools. Her class meets in the art room to discuss techniques of teaching reading, then immediately puts what they've learned into practice, working with children in their classrooms. They end the day with Kingsley, sharing their experiences and talking about what went well, and what they might need to study more.
Other School of Education classes partner with Kokomo's Elwood Haynes and Sycamore elementary schools.
"It's so helpful to be able to practice what we've just learned, so we can see what works for us, and what we need to study some more," said Spraker, a junior. "The Pettit Park teachers can also give us tips to help us improve our techniques."
Kingsley said the classroom experience helps the students grow as teachers.
"Teachers learn by doing," she said. "A technique can look good on paper, but until you take that plan and implement it with students, it's not real. They are able to try their ideas in a risk-free environment, so it's authentic. I'm able to serve as a mentor to them. I watch them in the classrooms, and get feedback from their host teachers, which I can use to improve their teaching. It's great to see the progress they make in skills and confidence through the year."
Allyson Jewell, a junior, said in addition to learning in her own class, she's benefited from working with the Pettit Park teachers.
"They teach you all of the new teaching strategies," she said. "It's really important for us to be in the field, starting early in college, so we can practice what our professors are teaching us, so we can grow in our skills. IU Kokomo does a good job getting us into schools right away."
Junior Tyler Keck recently helped fifth-graders improve their reading fluency using strategies he learned in his class.
"Having our class at the school helps us learn the book strategies, and then give them a real world context," he said. "It's a good balance of scholarship and the real world. Reading about teaching students is totally different from actually teaching them, and this gives us valuable experience."
The school and children also benefit from their efforts.
"We're helping the school, too, by being able to work one-on-one and in small groups, so the kids learn to be better readers," he said.
Pettit Park teacher Paul Dorisse, an IU Kokomo graduate, appreciates the extra assistance in his classroom, and said his students look forward to their weekly visits.
"They get so excited every week, and they all want one of the IU Kokomo students to work with them," he said. "I think we all benefit. I can help them learn some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of teaching, and they give me additional people who can work with my students. There is so much sitting in a college classroom can't teach you, you have to get out in a school, and get your feet wet."
Teacher Casey Hendricks is also an IU Kokomo graduates— in fact, seven of the 11 teachers at Pettit Park are alumni. Hendricks said all of her early experience was in Kokomo schools, starting with her first year.
"That helped me grow, from the beginning of my college career to graduation," she said. "I learned about how diverse students can be, and techniques to better teach them. It was great real world experience, and it made me a better teacher."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.