Student News

Summer student teaching opens doors to fall teaching positions for elementary education seniors

Left to right: Summer student teachers Caroline Murphy, Kyndal Bard, Haley Patterson, Emma Roberts, Joni Meade (elementary education clinical instructor), Mary Thom Adams, Chelsea Mason and Madison McDonald.
(Left to right:) Summer student teachers Caroline Murphy, Kyndal Bard, Haley Patterson, Emma Roberts, Joni Meade (elementary education clinical instructor), Mary Thom Adams, Chelsea Mason and Madison McDonald.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 11, 2023) — A University of Kentucky pilot program is accelerating the time it takes some elementary education majors to earn a degree, meeting the needs of both schools and teacher candidates. 

“In focus groups with students, they asked if it could be arranged to student teach during summer. We didn’t want to say no, so we said ‘what if’ and got creative,” said Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Ph.D., UK College of Education senior associate dean for academic programs and partnerships and professor of STEM Education. 

A small group of UK College of Education students were the first to complete summer student teaching this year, and all started jobs this fall in Kentucky classrooms. 

“Having the summer option enables our teacher candidates to start earning full benefits and full pay more quickly than the traditional timeline. It also meets the needs of communities by more quickly preparing candidates to fill open positions in schools permanently rather than a long-term substitute,” said Mohr-Schroeder. 

Chelsea Mason took advantage of the pilot program to jump start her career. The August 2023 UK grad was hired to teach fifth-grade at William Wells Brown Elementary this year. 

The summer pilot experience was an intense program that gave me unique opportunities to grow my teaching skills,” she said. “I was able to witness the ending of a school year and all the responsibilities that come with it. I gained insight on classroom management skills and unit planning. It was a very fast-paced program which required long hours of work during the summer. Overall, it was a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anyone who is willing to put in the work and get ahead in their teaching career.” 

Within state regulations for student teaching, faculty found flexibility to help students get the required hours leading a classroom, alongside experienced cooperating teachers.  

“Although elementary education program faculty worked to streamline the degree completion timeline, degree requirements remain the same, ensuring our teacher candidates are well-prepared for the profession,” said Joni Meade, elementary education clinical instructor. “The students also feel confident they will be able to rely on each other as they begin their careers because of the close relationships they developed while working together this summer.” 

Students committed to the summer student teaching pilot knowing they would begin practicum in January and not have a break until the end of July, except for two days off during the July 4 holiday. While completing student teaching over the summer, they were also attending onboarding and professional development meetings with teammates at their new schools. It was the students’ work ethic that made them ideal candidates for the pilot summer student teaching experience, Meade said. 

Elementary education majors in the pilot program completed their practicum placements at the beginning of April and then began student teaching placements. Although the last day of school for most students in Fayette County was May 26, some elementary schools have extended academic calendars, Rise STEM Academy for Girls and the Promise Academies at William Wells Brown and Harrison elementaries. By placing the summer student teachers in those schools, they were able to continue gaining student teaching days through the first week in June.  

To finish gaining experience, the student teachers transitioned to placements alongside certified teachers in the seven-week Central Kentucky YMCA Power Scholars program, which ran through July 21. 

“The opportunity for student teachers to earn wages for their contributions to Power Scholars was an amazing game changer,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “Flexibility in state regulations developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are enabling us to continue to seek ways for teacher candidates to be paid for the prior experience they bring into classrooms during student teaching placements, similar to how other majors pursue paid internships.” 

While student teaching traditionally takes place in the spring semester of students’ final year of college, there are a variety of reasons students may need a different timeline. For example, some come to UK with college credits they earned during high school, accelerating their path. Others may have started college in a different major and switched into the education program or are pursuing their education major on a part-time basis while working. 

“It is important that we listen to our students and respond in innovative ways to meet their needs,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “This experience was in direct response to community need and student voice, and we were able to accomplish it within licensure regulations. Our follow-up listening sessions with students who student taught this summer assured us that the program worked well and can continue to benefit future students.” 

The traditional elementary education model splits the semester for teacher candidates to give them time in primary (K-2) and advanced (3-5) grade levels. By transitioning between the Fayette County and YMCA Power Scholars programs, faculty were able to ensure student teachers still got experience working with both primary and advanced elementary students. 

Flexibility and adaptability, especially around classroom management and setting expectations for behaviors, were among the biggest skills students gained in summer student teaching,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “They got more leadership opportunities, especially around curriculum, creating lessons used across the group. Power Scholars are from different schools, so the student teachers brought together students who didn’t know each other and did introductions and team building. In traditional student teaching, they walk into a classroom mid-year, but this summer they got to start and end a program and had more opportunities to make personal connections and interact with families every day, such as while assisting at check-in and check-out. They are starting their teaching careers feeling 100% prepared, largely because of all the things they got to experience during this unique program.” 

Mary Thom Adams completed her student teaching in the summer pilot and was hired to teach fourth-grade at Rise STEM Academy for Girls. 

I was technically a fifth year senior and it was hard seeing so many of my friends move on to the ‘real world,’” she said. “I was ready to put my all into my schooling and move into adulthood. There were many moments I thought to myself  ‘This is a lot, probably more than I can handle.’ But after completing it, I am so grateful for this experience. I saw myself grow in confidence, flexibility, structure, and just overall as a human. I was able to get a unique, innovative student teaching experience that challenged me in the most beautiful ways.” 

As soon as student teaching finished this summer, Adams started her professional development days for her position at Rise Academy. 

I honestly feel this gave me the push of confidence and continuance of energy to allow me to jump right in and start the year off strong,” she said.  

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.