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Making the Most of Student Teaching: in the Classroom and Beyond

April 9, 2024

Drexel students are known for their ambition, for actively engaging in the process of experiential learning, and for pursuing innovation in their fields of study. This year, elementary education majors Savannah Gurule ’24, Michaela Youngblood ’24, and Raen Johnston ’24 exemplified these Drexel qualities as student teachers at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber Middle School (Beeber), a public school in Philadelphia with a project-based model of education. 

The three seniors, who are working toward their certificate in middle level education, brought their Drexel drive to excel to their roles as student teachers, along with a solid foundation of college coursework and field experience. At Beeber, they blossomed as educators, gaining new skills for a career after graduation. And going above and beyond just fulfilling their student teaching requirement, they created mini-courses that made a real impact on students and the school community.

Of the opportunities to gain real-world experience, Gurule says, “Co-op was one of the biggest reasons I chose Drexel. Even in my first year, which was a COVID year, we had field experiences, like watching classroom observations online or joining virtual classrooms.” 

“No other school offered an equal amount of time in the classroom,” echoes Johnston. “Starting in my second year, I had a classroom placement almost every quarter.” And Youngblood agrees, saying “I completed a six-month co-op and a six-month student-teaching placement, so when I graduate, I’ll have done a full year of teaching already.”

Gurule, Youngblood, and Johnston began student teaching at Beeber in Fall 2023, and throughout their time at the middle school, their mentor teachers provided invaluable feedback on the lessons and materials they created. They were also prepared with knowledge from their college coursework that they could apply directly to a classroom setting. 

Says Youngblood, who taught seventh and eighth grade math, “Drexel taught me the components of a good lesson, and we learned strategies for classroom management. Drexel gave me tools for my teacher’s toolkit, and student teaching was about figuring out what tools would work best.” 

For Gurule, Youngblood, and Johnston, a big highlight of their time at Beeber was creating mini-courses, which are supplemental clubs that allow students to explore extracurricular activities or learn new skills. Johnston created a fiber arts course, and Gurule and Youngblood founded a FIRST LEGO® League Challenge team. The courses not only served as additional ways to practice teaching and facilitating student learning, but they were also examples of how the three seniors took initiative to extend their student teaching experience beyond the classroom and into the school community. 

Of her mini-course, Johnston says, “I taught weaving and crocheting, but it evolved to include all sorts of yarn and fiber crafts. Some students learned to weave on looms, making bags and tapestries, and other students learned to crochet. One student really struggled with learning to crochet, but it was so rewarding to see him continuously try. I loved seeing the resilience, and we often talked about how it’s the trying that really matters.” 

Gurule and Youngblood created a team in a LEGO® robotics league. Gurule secured funding for the league, and both Drexel students facilitated the team in preparing for a competition organized by the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition. Explains Gurule, “There are two parts of the competition. One relates to actually building and coding a LEGO® robot to complete tasks, like pulling a level or pushing mini-figures to certain spots on the game board.” 

She continues, “The second part is an innovation project where the team has to answer a question related to a theme. This year’s theme was ‘How can you use technology to make your hobby more accessible?’ The students all love history, so they came up with the idea of a video game where you experience famous points in history as a time traveler. They made a whole presentation explaining it: how it’s accessible on all platforms, what it does, how they would go about making it. The team got sixth place in the robotics challenge, and they won first place for the innovation award! I was so excited for them, and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.” 

That the Beeber team performed well and even won the innovation award was especially meaningful for everyone, as it was the school’s first-ever showing at the competition and they were up against 21 other Philadelphia schools with much more experience. Adds Youngblood, “In terms of the school community, everyone was so hyped for the team. They got a trophy, which was put up at the school. It was amazing to see the kids and the whole school get excited about robotics.” 

For these three Drexel seniors, their time at Beeber was a moment of real growth and an important step in developing skills for a fulfilling career in education. “I feel more confident in my teaching skills now.” says Johnston. “I learned that collaborating is one of the most important professional skills you can have. And getting to know the students was probably my favorite part.” 

Gurule feels more self-assured as well, saying, “One thing I learned is that you have to have confidence in yourself as an educator, and then students will have confidence in you. The first year of teaching is going to be difficult, but if you have confidence, you can do it.” 

And reflecting on a philosophy of both learning and teaching that she’ll carry with her, Youngblood reflects, “My student teaching experience taught me that perfection isn’t the goal. It’s impossible to be a perfect teacher. The goal is growth. It’s what I’ll be teaching my future students – that failure and struggle are a part of growth. So, it’s important for me to practice that myself.” 

With their confidence, skills, real-world experience, and commitment to students, the future is bright for these young educators.