The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of education for decades to come, but educators and students at the University are not letting the effects damper their passion for getting back in the classroom.
Third- and fourth-year undergraduate students in teacher education programs are required to complete a 45-hour hands-on, intensive practicum. This experience allows them to observe and to teach what they are learning in their classes while immersing themselves in their role as a teacher. This program is only possible because of the faculty and staff that dedicate their time to our future educators.
Caroline Hatcher, director of clinical experiences, explained that during COVID-19 restrictions, in-person practica was discontinued, and a virtual program was used as an alternative.
“It is no secret, though, that an online classroom cannot replace in-person schooling. As we make this transition back to in-person learning, we also welcome the new faces working alongside our students during their clinical experience,” she said.
Hatcher leads the Clinical Experience team, which includes Washoe County School District Field-Based Instructors Joe Garton, Alisha Shaw and Vivian Bolanos, as well as Administrative Assistant Jill Smith.
“Education – the process of learning – is the one true magic that exists in this world, and every child deserves to experience the magic,” Joe Garton, first year Washoe County School District field-based instructor, said. “I want to help inspire and invigorate our future educators to not only survive in the classroom but thrive.”
This passion is driven by wanting to help future educators self-actualize and achieve their highest level of potential for the sake of students and public education. Before stepping into this role, Garton taught at Sparks High School but is now responsible for teaching Pedagogy I and II classes at the University, which introduces best practices for teaching in secondary education.
"I can think of no greater or more rewarding job than sharing what I love doing with a new group of educators," third-year Instructor Alisha Shaw, said.
She has been teaching for the Washoe and Lyon County School Districts for a combined 21 years, from pre-kindergarten to second grade, while also serving as a learning strategist for three years.
“I know I made the right choice to leave the classroom for a few years to share something I love with them,” Shaw said.
Shaw also talked about how the practicum is not a passive experience. Practicum students get to engage students in small groups, work on classroom management and serve as an extra set of hands for their teachers.
"Being able to mentor these students is inspiring," Shaw said. "I am, every day, in awe of them."
Vivian Bolanos is in her first year as a special education field-based instructor. She has experience working in elementary education classrooms and with developmental specials in the community. Bolanos is also working on her doctorate degree in special education with an emphasis in early childhood education. She is passionate about our future educators and the lives they will impact, as she is interested in advocating for families across Northern Nevada.
Hatcher recently became the director of the Clinical Experience department at the College of Education and Human Development. She has more than 25 years of combined teaching in diverse middle and high schools in two districts. She began her career teaching English for private language schools overseas in Switzerland. Over her 25 years, she has taught hundreds of students of all ages and demographics in the areas of English language arts, ELL, family literacy and AVID. She was one of the first Washoe County School District implementation specialists during the transition into Common Core and is also a certified teacher librarian. She has served as the secondary education Field-Based Instructor and looks forward to continuing to foster strong mentorships for educators.
"I know how important this learning stage is for a new teacher," Hatcher said. "It is during the internship that everything they learned comes together as a full picture of what teaching is really all about. This important phase of their career is their personalized learning time to wonder, try new things, ask questions, and most importantly, begin to find their teacher selves."
Student teachers in the program are placed in schools in Washoe County and throughout Nevada, including Clark County and Carson City. Teachers have also been placed out-of-state in places like Tennessee, Montana and Hawaii, and they even have the option of student teaching outside of the country through the COST program.
"Even though Washoe County School District is a big district, it is still a close community," Hatcher said. "After an internship or practicum, our students often end up being hired at the same school. There are so many districts looking for qualified, young teachers right now, and many of them are able to offer a variety of incentives. Rural areas, especially, want to hire and retain strong teachers. The opportunities for today's new teacher are endless."
Behind the scenes, Jill Smith, the administrative assistant, is responsible for coordinating student teaching experiences. She works closely with students as they go through the process and ensures that the individuals are on track as they progress through their clinical experience training. Smith also is the liaison for the Educational Testing Services and collaborates with external resources for teaching opportunities outside of Nevada.
Passionate public educators are mentoring our students to provide an excellent education to their future students. The opportunities are abundant both near and far for future educators from the University.
“It is a distinct privilege to have such a great team of dedicated individuals, who work diligently to ensure a smooth and meaningful transition to the PK-12 classroom for our teacher candidates,” Eleni Oikonomidoy, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development, said. “The knowledge and experiences that Washoe County School District field-based faculty bring to the college are invaluable, and we are grateful for this ongoing collaboration. Our teacher candidates are best prepared when they have meaningful clinical experiences. They are happy to be back in the classroom.”