Assistant Managing Editor
Working with students as they complete a watercolor project, a senior at Wapakoneta High School learns what it would be like to teach in a multiple disabilities classroom.
Courtney Fisher began volunteering in classrooms at Wapakoneta Elementary School her sophomore year and has continued ever since, including during the senior instructional leadership class she is taking now.
While she typically spends her time in a first-grade classroom, part of the requirements of the class are volunteering in a special education classroom, too.
Fisher said she is interested both in teaching younger students and those in special education, and the class has been proven to be a valuable experience.
“I always thought I wanted to teach,” Fisher said. “When I started working at the elementary school I knew it. It shows you what it would be like.
“It’s a good experience that I would recommend to anyone, especially those looking into education,” Fisher said of the class, which allowed her to get more involved in the classroom than she had been before while volunteering.
She has enjoyed putting together math review lesson plans, helping students make Christmas books for their parents and working with the children.
“I like seeing how they learn in different ways and helping them understand things,” Fisher said.
Elizabeth Martin, also in the senior instructional leadership program, had considered a career in education, but now thinks she may be headed in another direction. Either way, she has gotten valuable lessons from her time helping every day in a kindergarten classroom.
Martin, whose mom teaches, said she became more comfortable talking in front of a group of people after teaching lessons, learned to cooperate and communicate with the teacher, and to be organized, as well as creative, with lesson plans.
“I put a lot of thought into it,” Martin said. “I tried to make it fun for them.”
Even though the class was done at the end of last semester, Martin is continuing to work with the class, just not receiving credit for it.
“Working with students every day, it’s hard to leave,” Martin said. “They’ve come so far, I wanted to stay and work with them more.
“I didn’t choose kindergarten, but I loved working with them,” said Martin, who actually thought she might prefer teaching older students.
Of the young children she worked with, she said, “They are so cute, so adorable, and to be able to see them progress through the semester was really cool.”
While Martin isn’t planning on pursuing a degree in education, she is keeping it as a back-up plan.
Teacher Beth Homan said it is good for those considering a career in education to see what they may face now.
“Special education is a really demanding position in education, but it is also extra rewarding,” Homan said. “Words can’t describe how it makes you feel when kids come to you with basic skills and three to five years later they leave with skills to contribute to the community.”
Homan said not only does the job require a lot of patience and understanding, but you have to be able to work with families, not just children, and plan and prepare lessons for each student’s different abilities, as well as complete assessments and document the process.
“There are a wide range of opportunities, this way they can see different types of classrooms and find the best fit for them,” said Homan, who has been teaching for 17 years. “It’s the best way to get their feet wet. Ultimately, I want her (Fisher) to want to be a special education teacher, but I want her to realistically see what it would be like, too.”
Wapakoneta High School Guidance Counselor DeLynn Epperly said this year, with 14 students taking the class, they have had the most participation since the program started five years ago.
She said they recommend the program to students who may be interested in teaching or working with young children.
They are paired up with a teacher and given a list of goals — one-on-one tutoring, lesson preparation and teaching, bulletin board design, attending a school board meeting, and sitting in a special needs classroom — to accomplish to earn credit.
While anyone is eligible to participate, Epperly said it is work as they give up a study hall and are required to turn in assignments. Depending on the number of days a week they help in classrooms, they can earn a quarter or half credit.
“The goal is to give our kids a chance to learn more about teaching so that he or she can make an educated choice about entering into the field,” Epperly said. “The portfolio they submit for a grade is, hopefully, going to be useful to them in college, too, because they already have ideas and journals for reflection.”
Wapakoneta Elementary School kindergarten teacher Allison Unterbrink said she wanted to be a part of the program to work with a high school student who is interested in education.
Working with Martin, Unterbrink said she wanted to answer any questions and address concerns the senior had.
“I think it helps the high school students by getting them into the classroom and allowing them to see what a snapshot of our day looks like,” Unterbrink said. “I think it helps them get an idea of what to expect in education at all levels so they can decide what they want to specialize in and it makes them more rounded in the field.”
She said it also gives her another set of hands and eyes in the classroom, which is a big help, especially with kindergarten students.
Unterbrink said her students enjoyed working with Martin every day in the classroom and participating in her lessons.
“I think my students liked having another teacher once in a while,” Unterbrink said. “It changed things up in my classroom.”
The kindergarten teacher said if she had such a program offered to her when she was in high school it would have helped her decide what age of education she wanted to focus on.
“It would have allowed me to see a classroom daily before going on to college. It would have given me an earlier insight,” Unterbrink said. “The program is very beneficial to high school students, it gives them the opportunity to get a sneak peek of their possible career.”