Pilot course gives education students early taste of teaching environment

Aspiring teachers get a glimpse of their future in course delivered in three Edmonton schools.


Andrea Garcia-Velasco admits she wasn’t entirely sure what she was getting into when she decided to pursue her bachelor of education degree at the University of Alberta.

“I had an idealistic view of what it was like to be a teacher,” Garcia-Velasco says. “Until you’re put in actual situations in an actual classroom, you don’t have a sense of what the challenges really are or how great the accomplishments really are.”

For many BEd students, such idealistic views about teaching are all they have to go on until they’re already halfway through their degrees. A Faculty of Education course called EDU 100/300 is intended to introduce aspiring teachers to different contexts of professional practice within education. But the students who take it are often still a few semesters away from engaging in the field experience that would illuminate this theoretical learning—and might have a big impact on what kinds of teachers they want to be. This disconnect inspired secondary education professor George Richardson to imagine a way to get education students into real school settings sooner.

“The idea behind EDU 100 is to prepare students well for the BEd program, and the more experience we can give them that’s school-based, the better they will be and the better they’ll understand the kinds of issues that education deals with these days,” Richardson says.

With the support of the Faculty of Education's Undergraduate Student Services, Richardson conceived of a pilot version of EDU 100 that was delivered right in elementary, junior high and high schools so students could complement their coursework with access to “the life of the school” and daily interactions with teachers, pupils, support staff and parents. The pilot was slated for the intersession between spring and summer semesters, because of its shorter duration and smaller class sizes. St. Alphonsus Elementary School, Highlands Junior High School and Centre High all agreed to provide space for U of A students for one week of the course each.

“The schools were very enthusiastic. They loved the idea and they were more than willing to host the kids, to assign them a special room where we could do the teaching in the school, and then to provide them with a whole range of experiences,” Richardson says. “They were actively suggesting things the kids might do and actively including them in everything from talking to parents about inclusion to being part of whole school activity days taking place away from school.”

Seeing the whole spectrum of teaching

Richardson says there was a deliberate effort to provide a cross-section of educational contexts over the three weeks, including Catholic and public systems, elementary through high school, diverse school populations and students with different learning needs.

“A lot of the schools we’re working with are high-needs schools, but for a lot of our students, that’s not in their background. I didn’t know if we had them in classes where there were students with specialized learning needs, whether our students would be a little reluctant working with them. But what came out of it was some students got very excited about working in these areas they hadn’t considered before,” Richardson says.

“Most of them had a perception of teaching from having done K–12, so you have that image of teaching. But when they got into the schools, because of the diverse nature of these schools, our students began to see how teaching is a whole spectrum, a real range of ways to work with students—behavioural assistance or language learning with refugees—that some of them hadn’t thought of before.”

Garcia-Velasco says she didn’t know the course she registered for would be taught at different schools until she got the syllabus, but notes that the hands-on experience broadened her perspective on her options as a future educator.

“I think Highlands was my favourite school, just the way the teachers were so open and so kind and you felt a sense of community in that school, that students could be who they wanted to be,” she says. “They did an Indigenous blanket ceremony and a lot of cultural experiences. It was a very different school than I had previously experienced.”

Brooke Hodgson says she’s already done her first teaching practicum, but having a chance to take EDU 100 in the kinds of schools where she’ll work one day added another dimension to her preparations for a teaching career.

“You can sit in a lecture hall and talk about teaching all day, you can talk about your views on students and what you think they want, but it’s totally different when you talk to students themselves in a classroom. I think that’s an experience everyone in the class really valued.” Hodgson says.

Nawal Kamal says the EDU 100 experience gave her a deeper understanding of the teacher's role. "Everyone was so caring, about more than just marks. It really encouraged me to make that same impact on my future students."

EDU 100 was Nawal Kamal’s very first course toward her BEd. She says her exposure to the realities of classroom teaching and daily life at three schools instilled a deeper understanding of the teacher’s role.

“Everyone was so caring, about more than just marks. It really encouraged me to make that same impact on my future students,” Kamal says. “I want to make everyone feel welcome. Every student I’m going to have is going to be struggling in ways I don’t even know about or haven’t experienced, and I just want to be really open-minded to that and have a whole-hearted aspect to my teaching.”

Karen Jacobsen, field experience co-ordinator with Undergraduate Student Services, helped engage the participating schools and taught the final week of the course at Centre High. She says pilots like EDU 100 aren’t just great for education students; they also help foster connections between the Faculty of Education and the education system.

“By the middle of the first week of the course, the principal of Highlands said they were interested in hosting the course again next year. And the principal at Centre High was very supportive,” Jacobsen says. “They would love to have more involvement in the preparation of students who will become teachers in their schools, and they would also like to show the innovative things they are doing in their contexts, so students aren’t limited to just believing education is exactly whatever they might have experienced in their own lives.”