Columbia students are getting a taste of what teaching in a real classroom is like thanks to a speaker series organized by a coalition of educational student groups on campus.
Students gathered in a Hamilton classroom Tuesday evening to hear from Teach For America alumnus Jake Jung in the second of five workshops hosted by Education Umbrella.
As he reviewed strategies for creating an orderly classroom, Jung sprinkled anecdotes throughout the session about his experiences with fifth- and sixth-graders at a Brooklyn charter school. One of his fondest, he said, was when he combined his class with a kindergarten class for a project.
“There were up to 50 kids in the class at any given point, between kindergartners and fifth-graders,” Jung said. “Between two teachers, we were able to manage everyone, largely because of the things that I’m going to talk to you about tonight.”
Education Umbrella President Mike Rady, CC ’13, said he started the events because of his own experiences volunteering in an eighth-grade classroom.
“I realized there were a lot of skills that I wish I had before entering the classroom,” Rady said, citing techniques such as lesson planning and behavior management. “Teaching is not necessarily something that comes naturally to people.”
After reading about experiences and advice from published educators, Rady decided that new student teachers at Columbia should have access to important teaching techniques and materials before entering classrooms.
Rady, a Teach For America representative for Columbia, contacted the national organization in search of resources for the trainings. Using a grant he secured from the Columbia College Student Council, he arranged to have Jung come to Columbia to lead biweekly sessions covering a number of education-related topics.
In the 75-minute session Tuesday, Jung outlined a simple three-step classroom management technique called the Behavior Management Cycle, which he credited to his “classroom management guru,” renowned education expert Lee Canter. The cycle involves first giving students clear and detailed instructions in order to not leave room for interpretation, then acknowledging those students who are following directions, and finally identifying and giving consequences to those who misbehave.
Although the individual steps are not “revolutionary,” Jung said, it can be easy for teachers to forget them.
“It’s well-tested, it’s proven in research, and it works,” he said of the cycle. “Urban, rural, poor, rich—it doesn’t matter what kind of classroom it goes in. It works.”
Throughout the training, students were encouraged to ask questions in response to the material being presented, and many approached Jung after class to ask specific questions about his own experiences and opinions.
“It’s cool to see them getting inquisitive. I definitely have had some positive feedback from the students,” Jung said after the training, adding that some students asked if they could visit his classroom.
Rady also reported positive feedback, as well as a diverse crowd of participants, from seniors entering the teaching field to underclassmen from all the undergrad schools.
Registration for the sessions increased after the first week, Rady said, with some new students showing up to the training events and signing up on the spot.
Ben Harris, CC ’14, said he enjoyed Jung’s teaching methods. He signed up for the sessions to supplement his teaching experience with Youth for Debate.
Jung “really does a good job showing skills instead of just telling us about them,” Harris said. “Should I end up pursuing teaching after graduation, I’ll have a really useful basic set of skills.”
Emily Pries, GS and instruction director for the trainings, also said Jung was helpful.
“We found that there were a lot of people that have been working in education settings—whether it’s tutoring, or classrooms, or whatever it is—that just should have the basic training to do a good job,” Pries, a teacher in East Harlem, said. “We need qualified teachers. We need people who are excited about teaching.”
Nell Koring, BC ’13 and president of America Reads at Columbia, has been attending the training sessions along with other mentors at America Reads. She said that attending the sessions was like research for improving her own trainings.
“Classroom management is one of the things that our tutors have issues with,” Koring said. “It’s difficult to train someone to manage a classroom.”
Although the topics for future sessions are loosely defined, Jung said he hopes to adapt the lesson plans based on student feedback and on the progress they make with each session.
“They all kind of build on each other,” he said.
Registration for the sessions is now closed, but Rady said he hopes that Education Umbrella will be able to continue the training in future semesters.
Jung said the program was “an arm for Teach For America” to reach out and generate interest in education among college students.
“I personally would be more than interested in continuing something like this,” he said.
Walter Jean-Jacques, CC ’14 and a teacher training participant, has applied to Teach For America with aspirations of becoming an engaging and inspiring teacher.
“I come from an area where education disparity is a really big issue,” Jean-Jacques said, explaining that at school in Newark, N.J., he often didn’t feel that his teachers really wanted to be in the classroom. “I want to be in that position and actually have the chance to educate people like myself,” he said.