Emily Hewitson spends her afternoons in front of a class with about 15 students and tries to teach them how to teach.
“I want all of you to take time today to pull from the theories we discussed and see what you do and don’t agree with,” she says to the class. “Then work on your teaching methods.”
Hewitson, a teacher at Gig Harbor High School, is helping senior students from Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools find their passion to become future educators.
“It’s exciting to see these students want to become teachers,” Hewitson said. “At the beginning of the year I asked them why they believed they wanted to be teachers, and the main answer I got was because they want to help others.”
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The Teacher Academy class is a part of the school district career and tech education classes, or CTE classes, which help students find a career path to follow after graduation.
“My philosophy is building student aspirations and ensuring they have a plan to get there,” Erin O’Neill, the district’s CTE director, said.
CTE classes are defined by five characteristics:
▪ If students can gain skills that make them unique from the general population.
▪ The classes are available for college credits.
▪ The classes have core academic equivalency, meaning they cover some basic education requirements based on state standards.
▪ CTE classes involved “career connected learning,” meaning they strive to give students the best experience within the job force.
▪ The CTE classes offer a multitude of career paths.
This year, Hewitson’s class has visited colleges including Tacoma Community College, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University and Washington State University.
The Teacher Academy was brought to fruition this year because school districts have seen a lack of teachers, both locally and nationally, O’Neill said.
“We have positions that are still vacant in the middle of the year,” she said. “One of our hopes is how we can help these students become educators now and then how we can later help them to come back and teach in the district.”
Hewitson teaches the class with Rebecca Wenrich, and together they have started the first generation of teacher apprentices in the Peninsula School District. The most exciting aspect of the class is that students will be paired with “master teachers” next semester to help teach a course to elementary or middle school students. The students have been deciding what course they want to teach and at what grade level.
“We are learning a lot about to create and foster a healthy learning environment,” Gray Coyle, a student in Hewitson’s class, said.
Coyle and her peers said they chose to join the class because it helps them create a clear future for themselves. Others knew they wanted to become teachers and so the class has really helped them start on the right footing.
“I knew I wanted to become a teacher since sophomore year because previous English teachers made an impact on me,” Stacie Finley said. “And suddenly this class popped up because Erin O’Neill came in and decided this would be a great class. If you want to be a teacher, why not go all out and learn?”
“I wanted to know if being a teacher was something I wanted to pursue,” Hailee Bruner said. “It was always a thought in my head but I didn’t know if it was something I would really want to do.”
Many students learned that, surprisingly, being a teacher means more than just knowing about the subject you’re teaching.
“We focus on multiculturalism and education,” Bailey Foster said. “The focus is on how to interact with students on a personal level while maintaining a healthy relationship.”
“I feel like it has made us respect our teachers more,” Coyle said, making her class giggle. “Lots of time you hear students complain about their teachers but this has shown us how much work they actually put in.”
Hewitson said they are still looking for teachers to pair each student with, but she is excited to see how the six weeks of student-teaching turns out.
“This is like our first generation of students doing this,” she said. “So we will be fine-tuning the program more and more.”
Students in the program will receive college credits and some colleges will consider the course a basics of education class, which can help students pursue a college degree in education.