Student-Teaching: Learning Beyond the Subject

By Sue Gettlin | November 2, 2011

It’s only appropriate that a tenth-grade biology teacher inspired student-teacher Joe MacNichol to excel academically. Just as his tenth-grade teacher encouraged him to do well, so did MacNichol encourage his students in his teaching experience at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) High School, teaching tenth-grade biology as part of his semester-long field experience.

MacNichol originally started student teaching thinking that students had a set curriculum they had to learn and that it was his role to make sure his students learned the curriculum. By the end of his experience, his mindset had changed. “I wanted my students to learn science so that they thirsted for it, wanted to learn about it. I wanted them to learn what it meant to be a scientist, rather than just the science as a subject.”

Along with his co-op teacher, Michael Cole, Department Chair of Biology at Kensington, MacNichol phased into independently teaching in Cole’s classroom, allowing him to use what he learned in the Education program at Arcadia in practice, as well as experiment with his teaching style, in a less stressful environment. He recounted that Cole’s constructive criticism made the co-op relationship a positive experience.

The Doylestown native wasn’t sure about his placement at Kensington at first. “I wasn’t thrilled,” he said, as he remembers first getting his assignment, “but the experience was so much better than what I expected.” His involvement in the students’ afterschool sports programs allowed him to build rapport with his students, who initially thought he was a police officer. In a mostly African American community, this made it difficult to initially establish trust with his students.

Teaching at Kensington opened his eyes to how different his childhood was compared with his students’. While teaching his students how to extract DNA from the common strawberry, he asked his students what other organisms had DNA. “One of my students really opened my eyes. He had thought that strawberry was only a flavoring. I didn’t realize that some of my kids hadn’t ever had a strawberry before. This was really tough for me to realize.”

Now that he has completed this portion of this certification, he is in the process of looking for a job. “The state’s cutbacks are affecting job placements, but there is a need for more science teachers, so I’m hopeful.”