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Shaquana Willingham, a senior at Fike High School, is sitting on the fence as to whether she would like to be a teacher or a nurse.
A new program in Wilson County Schools that places high school students in classrooms as interns will help Shaquana make the best decision as to which route to take for a career.
“I am in between the two right now,” Shaquana said. “I like teaching because I like looking at the kids and working with them and seeing how they learn in different ways.”
Shaquana is one of eight students currently doing apprentice work for a couple of hours each afternoon in Wilson County Schools.
Shaquana is learning in Kristin Sexton’s kindergarten class at Wells Elementary School.
“I have learned that kids can be very challenging, and I can see that they are very respectful when they can be and they respect their teachers,” Shaquana said last week. “I have only been working here since Tuesday, but I have seen things with the kids that are interesting.”
She has worked with them on their math, helped them write sentences and pronounce words.
“I feel like it will give me a picture of how it would be for me to teach in the future,” Shaquana said. “I feel like it will be an opportunity for me to see how kids are and how it is to work with them and see their challenges. I am already looking into teaching, so I thought it was a good opportunity for me to see how it is and experience it.”
Sexton said teaching is a challenging job.
“A lot of people think that it is just educating, but there are so many other factors that you have to plug in,” Sexton said. “We are the nurse sometimes. We are the shoulder to cry on sometimes. We are the one that says, ‘Well, that’s not exactly how we handle things. We have to think of a better way to do it.’ There are days that are very challenging. Some are more challenging than others. In kindergarten, it’s always a fun ride for sure, but it is a very rewarding position as well.”
Sexton said the internship will give the interns insight about what it is actually like as a teacher.
“They have been in the classroom themselves, so they know what a classroom is like, but when you step into someone else’s shoes and kind of take on that role, it gives you a little bit of a different insight into all the different things that it encompasses,” Sexton said.
Elliott Haynes, another senior at Fike High School, interned as a teacher at Wells Elementary School in the fall and liked it so much she arranged her class schedule to be able to return for another semester learning the ropes as a teacher.
Haynes has been in the third-grade classroom of Miranda Walls, a 20-year veteran of the teaching profession.
“I am interested in the teaching field, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go into it or not,” Elliott said. “This has kind of showed me what it is like to be a teacher and why I would want to pursue this because you don’t get this kind of an opportunity until you are like in a third year in college. This actually shows me if I want to do this when I am older.”
For Elliott, the decision on whether to teach has been made.
“Yes, this is what I want to do,” Elliott said.
“I want to do elementary education or special education,” Elliott said. “As a teacher you know that you are helping them for the future. You are helping them be better. It’s not even about me liking it. It’s just about helping the students. I feel like I am making an impact.”
Walls said Elliott has done an excellent job as an educator.
“She’ll be fabulous at it,” Walls said. “She has a very good rapport with the children. She has been able to implement some lessons. She created a math game and a collaborative lesson with the students in writing, so she has just been able to pick right up and help me with the kids and work in small groups. They absolutely love when she comes in the classroom.”
Walls didn’t have this kind of intern experience until late in her college education.
“I know when I went to college it wasn’t until I had classroom experience that I learned so many things,” Walls said. “I think it is a wonderful experience for them to come in while they are still in high school to get an idea if this is something they want to do and to see what happens in the background because you don’t learn that in college. You may learn a little bit about classroom management, but until you have had to deal with it, you don’t learn about all the planning and everything that goes along with teaching.”
Other high school students participating in the teacher internship program include Alberty Jones, Kaylee Ramirez, Sarah Bunn, Isiah Davis, Logan Hinnant and Nicholas Tew. Four have returned for a second semester.
David Lyndon, executive director of secondary education for Wilson County Schools, said the teacher intern program fills a great need for teachers.
“We actually looked at it from a three-pronged stance,” Lyndon said. “From the vantage point of the student, we want the student to get a fresh look at what the classroom experience was like before they actually entered the teacher preparation program. That way they could make an informed decision if that was a viable or real career choice for them.
“From the vantage point of the individual schools and the classroom teachers, having the opportunity to work with a young teacher or someone who has an interest in becoming a teacher make us more reflective on what we do, so it actually strengthens the teachers who are actually working with these students,” Lyndon said.
“From the vantage point of the district, we’re creating a pipeline. We are hoping that these students go off and get their four-year degree and come back as teachers, and more importantly that they come back as teachers in Wilson County Schools.”