ACE Teachers Gain Valuable Experience in Local Schools
In a classroom at Navarre Middle School, Allie Olshefke has the students’ attention to herself. Her mentor teacher watches as she prods a group of seventh graders to explain their thinking.
“I’m glad you came to the answers, but I really want to know how,” Olshefke tells them, pointing to two triangles drawn on the whiteboard. “Sometimes it’s easier to show what we’re thinking than explain what we’re thinking.”
This fall, Olshefke will be teaching high school math at Cristo Rey Atlanta as a member of the 25th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows. This summer, she’s student-teaching in the South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC) – one of nearly 100 new teachers who spent their summer mornings in classrooms around South Bend and their afternoons in class at Notre Dame.
“They’ve really made our job easier,” says Shaylynn Tinkel, the summer site coordinator at Navarre.
For 25 years, ACE has partnered with community schools to give beginning teachers opportunities to get their first taste of leading a classroom. The experience gives the teachers valuable practical experience, and schools benefit from energetic talent that reinforces summer learning for students.
During the school year, Tinkel is the curriculum intervention specialist at Jackson Middle School. At Navarre, she supervises 24 teachers and 24 instructional assistants who work with about 345 students in grades 6 through 8. Nineteen ACE teachers are paired with teachers according to their subject area, and they work with small groups and lead lessons for whole groups.
Having the ACE teachers gives the school an additional resource to help students, because it lowers the student-teacher ratio and gives students more individual attention, Tinkel says. “The smaller we can group them, the more we can identify what they need and attack those weaknesses.”
“Student teaching gave me a better sense of what being in a classroom will be like,” Olshefke says. “Though they teach us all about the science of teaching in our ACE classes, it is a completely different story when you have to put those practices in action. Student teaching allowed me to practice the art of teaching, which makes me a lot less nervous about the first day of school.”
ACE teachers work in SBCSC, the School City of Mishawaka, Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, Elkhart Community Schools, Catholic schools such as Christ the King, Holy Cross, St. Adalbert, St. Vince DePaul, and Marian and St. Joseph high schools, and the Upward Bound Program at Notre Dame. They work in a variety of ways, often supporting their mentor teachers with one-on-one instruction.
In a classroom down the hall from Olshefke, Mike Agrippina is working one-on-one with a student on an essay. Agrippina will be teaching middle school language arts at San Juan del Rio Catholic School in Jacksonville this fall, but at the moment he’s walking a student through the parts of an essay – introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Then he’s moving on to another student before coming back to check on the first student’s progress.
Student teaching provided a practical environment to practice some of the many teaching methods we learned about this summer,” he says. “It was so useful to have a place to apply lessons that we talked about in class in a supportive environment with frequent and focused feedback.”
Tinkel said that the one-on-one instruction provides a boost to the middle school students. Teachers use computer software as a diagnostic tool to see students’ weaknesses and then design lessons to target their needs. “A computer just doesn’t always give them what we can give the in person,” Tinkel says. “There’s so many great interactions going on.”
Chad Johnson, a longtime SBCSC teacher who now works at Adams High School, has mentored ACE student-teachers for a number of years.
“I’m very impressed with their eagerness to learn – how they soak things in and how they take criticism,” he says. “You can tell ACE is in it for the right reasons.”
Johnson says that the ACE teachers’ strength is how well they relate to the students.
“I think they bring a sense of where that student is at that moment, whether it’s academic or personal,” he says. “It opens my eyes as well as to what a student is going through.”
Agrippina said the one-on-one interactions had an impact that will carry over to San Juan del Rio.
“At Navarre, I learned the importance of connecting with the students outside of class,” he said. “Taking time at lunch to play cards or talk basketball with the kids went a long way in building rapport that carried over into the classroom.”
Olshefke says she benefitted from the guidance she received at Navarre.
“I will miss the support and feedback from my cooperating teachers, she says, “but they have been so helpful in preparing me to start teaching my seniors on August 6th.”