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Student teachers ready to graduate

WORTHINGTON - As student teaching for Patty LeBrun and Sarah Steffl is drawing to an end, they have mixed feelings about leaving the classroom they've grown attached to, but they are excited to embark on a new teaching journey.

Both students at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU), LeBrun was placed at the Windom Middle School at the beginning of the school year, and Steffl at Prairie Elementary.

Student teaching is typically the culminating experience for education majors when they are paired with a mentor teacher for a semester. SMSU students must maintain a 2.8 grade-point average, have completed 90 credits for their teaching degree, successfully completed Pre-Student Teaching Experience (PSTE), and passed the Minnesota Teachers Licensing Examination (MTLE) Basic Skills Test in reading, writing and math.

Lifelong learning for LeBrun

LeBrun had never set foot in the Windom Middle School prior to her placement, but she was armed with experience from being a substitute teacher, four years of elementary education knowledge from SMSU and being a mother.

As a non-traditional student, LeBrun earned a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, and Master's in Business Administration about 15 years ago.

"When I was younger I wanted to be a teacher but I had other careers in mind," LeBrun said. "My mom talked me into accounting and finance, which I liked too."

LeBrun spent most of her working years being an accountant and an auditor. In mid-2006, she decided she wanted a break from a full-time job so she could spend time with her husband and three daughters.

After five months of time-off, LeBrun ventured onto a path she had once foregone -- teaching.

"I started being a sub (teacher) in Worthington," said LeBrun, who enrolled as an undergraduate at SMSU in fall of 2007. "I've spent so many years working but sometimes you need to mix it up."

"You start out with watching what the mentors do and what kind of expectations they have of the students. By the third week, I started teaching the math lessons and I've been teaching that ever since," LeBrun said about how she eased into her position of a student teacher for the fifth-grade class she was assigned to.

As every two weeks progressed, she shouldered the responsibility of teaching another lesson. From the beginning of this month, she became full fledged fifth grade student teacher -- teaching math, reading, social studies and science.

"We've been phasing in so eventually you're doing everything from taking the kids to P.E. class or music, and getting the lessons together," she said. "My mentor teacher explained to me (in) which order she wanted me to cover the curriculum. She gives me a lot of direction and I have some freedom to do what I want. I try to keep things pretty similar to the way she does it because when the kids get into the routine, you want to keep them in that groove so they don't get confused."

"It gets challenging sometimes when you want to be in control of the classroom," LeBrun said. "But every now and then you have to refer to your mentor because in the end it's her classroom and she has to be accountable to the parents and her boss. It's an ebb and flow process."

LeBrun's mentor is Windom fifth-grade teacher Paula Wolter, with whom she said it was easy to forge a bond because of their similarity in age.

"I'm her 15th student teacher so she has her routine set," LeBrun said.

Like most teachers, she has enjoyed getting to know her students.

"It's really different from being a (substitute teacher) because here you spend eight hours a day, five days a week with them," she explained. "They share a lot of information with you and I like getting a bond going with them.

"This is my third and final degree and as my husband likes to remind me - my final degree," she added in between laughter. "But really, it's lifelong learning."

Steffl returns to Worthington

Worthington High School graduate Sarah Steffl returned to her school district in August to teach first-graders at Prairie Elementary.

Paired with her mentor, Meg Spartz, Steffl is on her 13th week of student teaching.

"I went to a private school when I was in elementary so it's nice being in a public elementary school," Steffl said. "I like it very much - they (staff) are very welcoming."

With 12 weeks of student teaching under her belt, Steffl has learned a lot about her young students.

"They're first-graders so they're not going to have the attention span of what I have so I have to re-teach but I love when the light bulb comes on," she said. "They realize 'Oh, I've got this' and they'll (move) off to the next spot.

"When you get to know them, they're a lot easier to read. You can tell if something is going on at home or if something good happened." she added.

Steffl spent her first two weeks observing Spartz in the classroom.

"I let her dig in right away," Spartz said. "She took on a class each week so she could ease into it. She has to do two full weeks without my help which she is doing now. She'll ease out of it and I'll start taking over again."

Steffl admitted that she has been "on her toes" these two weeks.

"When an event, like Veterans Day, comes up, I have to teach with it because it's a teachable moment," Steffl explained. "I have to remind myself to do it right away once it's brought up."

Spartz added she arranged for Steffl to spend her last week observing ESL, special education, and a few kindergarten- to fourth-grade classes

"I want her to see how it all works in this building," she said.

Every week, Spartz meets with Steffl and her adviser -who acts as a liaison among the college, the school and Steffl - to discuss progress.

At the end of the 15-week period, Spartz will complete an evaluation which she said Steffl "shouldn't worry about."

"If she did something wrong, it should have come up during the meetings," Spartz said. "I'm here to mentor her but not to write a bad evaluation."