An early lesson: Future teachers head into class in second year

HARLINGEN — Kristina Carbajal tapped her finger first on one box and then the other.

“How many are there?” asked Carbajal, 21, as she worked with Justin Trevino. The two boxes drawn on the sheet of paper were filled with small circles, some drawn by Carbajal, others by Justin, 8.

“So you have have two groups, 18 divided by …,” she prompted the third grader at Ben Milam Elementary.

Karbajal is one of 13 students in the Education and Training program at Texas State Technical College who are performing their practicum, or student teaching, at Ben Milam.

“This is one of our best offers,” said Myriam Aguila, lead instructors for the TSTC program. Two other TSTC courses taught at Ben Milam are introduction to Teaching Reading and Instructional Practice and Learning Environment.

The first course in the two-year program is taught at Ben Milam and students must give a mini-lesson every two weeks. This provides real-world experiences much sooner than other teachers-in-the-making.

“They get exposure in their first year,” said Martha Valdez, instructional coach at Ben Milam. “They can decide if education is for them. Other programs expose them in their third or fourth year.”

Aguila said once the students complete the two-year program, they’ll receive an associates in applied science. Through a partnership with Texas A&M Kingsville, all credits can transfer. Students can complete a four-year degree in Kingsville and become teachers. The associates allows them to work as paraprofessionals.

The practicum students like Carbajal must log in a total of 336 hours in the classroom.

They seem to be enjoying the experience. Being in the classroom Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays over a period of months gives Nadine De Leon a better understanding of classroom dynamics.

“I love this program,” said De Leon, 27. “It shows you exactly what is in the classroom every single day, not just special days. I have seen kids on their best behavior the first first week. Once they get used to us and you see them everyday, you are basically part of everything,”

The student teachers are on hand to help teachers with anything they need. Some are introduced more quickly to actual teaching than others.

Carbajal remembers recently when the teacher she was working with was about to give a lesson. He then had to step outside with a student.

“I took it upon myself to get started,” she said.

Starting right off giving mini-lessons in the first class quickly introduces them to the realities of teaching.

“We start getting exposure when we are the ones teaching,” said Yasmin Espinosa, 21. “We are in the classroom all day. I read to them the other day.”

In another classroom, Josephine Mata was helping fifth graders with vocabulary words, bringing the concepts of cause and effect into the exercise.

The kids seemed to have a great time.

“She’s awesome,” said Evelyn Gonzalez, 10.

“She’s the best,” added Kaylee Vargas, 10.

Mata, 20, thought they were pretty good, too.

“I love working with the kids, getting a lot of experience,” she said. “I like having the hands on.”

The hands-on approach seems mutually beneficial. Student teachers get a birds-eye look at the world of teaching. The children are able to see the classroom work through a different set of eyes.