EDMOND — University of Central Oklahoma child psychology professor Genia James always has believed in the power of education and the value of real-world experience.
As a professor training young adults to enter the field of teaching, she hoped to give students a chance to learn from professionals firsthand.
She didn't know how to achieve that goal until August.
“I always hoped I'd have the chance to put teacher candidates in a classroom so they could observe teachers in action,” James said.
During the fall semester, UCO administrators hoping to fund an academic program that would benefit students offered faculty the chance to apply for a grant.
James applied for the grant and was awarded $5,000.
This spring, the grant allows for James' 11 child psychology students to shadow Linwood Elementary School teachers in the Oklahoma City School District as they teach students in prekindergarten through sixth grade a wide range of subjects.
From 1 to 3 p.m. each Thursday, the UCO students watch and assist Linwood teachers with their daily activities, then gather for an hour in the library to reflect on their observations and experiences.
“Their main goal is to interact with students and learn about the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children,” James said.
Linwood Principal Susan Combs said the program is mutually beneficial to her teachers, who get a helping hand in the classroom, and to the UCO education majors, who get to apply what they are learning in a real-world setting.
“Nothing can better prepare students for jobs in teaching than actually being in a classroom and seeing how teachers work and engage with students,” Combs said.
“This program provides students with priceless opportunities.”
UCO education major Chelsie Roberts said the program helped validate her decision to teach kindergarten.
“It came in handy for me because I chose to concentrate on early childhood development,” Roberts said. “I always wanted to teach kindergarten, and getting the chance to sit in on classes from all grades helped verify my choice.”
Roberts said the program also helped validate a more basic decision: to become a teacher.
“I've always felt like teaching is my calling,” she said. “I've had a lot of teachers influence my life, and I guess I'd like to have the chance to influence someone else's life in that same way.”
James said students in the child psychology class are required to shadow teachers and to complete online reading assignments, homework and tests. The students will receive a grade in the class at the end of the semester.
James said she hopes to continue the program in upcoming semesters and will write another grant request to UCO's administrators to continue the venture in the fall.
Bryan Duke, associate dean of the College of Education, said the need for the program is evident.
“There's no substitute for on-site experience,” Duke said. “Education majors see movies and hear stories that color their perspectives on what teaching is like. When you get them in the schools, they realize they're just talking to kids, and it's not so intimidating. In that way, I think we're giving the students some confidence.
“We definitely want to find ways to continue funding the program. We are in the process of trying to find ways to sustain this program and keep it a high priority.”
The money from the grant goes toward paying for classroom materials and resources, as well as providing Linwood teachers a stipend in exchange for their participation.
I've had a lot of teachers influence my life, and I guess I'd like to have the chance to influence someone else's life in that same way.”
University of Central Oklahoma education major