Bushnell Elementary Student Teacher Reflects on Time in Classroom

The new school year started with an extra student in one kindergarten class at Bushnell Elementary.  Ahmed Elmi, a student at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has spent time in the class completing his student teaching.  He is set to graduate the beginning of December.

A Focus on Education
GVSU works with school districts when it comes to placement of teacher assistants and student teachers.  The College of Education states travel will be less than 45 minutes and they will not be placed within the district they attend.  Elmi found out the end of July where he would be placed. Upon graduation, Elmi will be certified to teach K-8 in social studies and K-5 for all content.  

Initially Elmi started his college experience with a focus on art.  His mom questioned whether his initial path was one he wanted to follow for the rest of his life.  This conversation came up a couple of times as he completed his general requirements. It turned out after some reflection, a change in direction in his personal life, and conversations in a quiet place influenced the decision to go into education. An accident took him out of being able to compete in cross-country and track with GVSU at a national level, which led him to focusing more on school.  

Also during this time, friends of his mother, who live near GVSU and were teachers for more than 40 years between them, invited him to come to their house for a quiet place to study.  That and an offer of free coffee was the start of an extended friendship. Conversations surrounding their experience and knowledge on teaching influenced his decision to look into education himself.  Even after three years, Elmi remains in contact with his mother’s friends and still visits with them at least twice a month.

Elmi helping students build shelters during their Wilderness Immersion Week at the Wittenbach Wege Center. Photo courtesy of Emma Kluge.

Placement at Bushnell
Elmi has been taking part in teaching Emma Kluge’s kindergarten class since the start of the school year.  “They are built-in reflectors and able to share great work with us. On the flip side, the host teacher grows by reflecting on their practice and building their teaching repertoire using this growth mindset.” says Bushnell Elementary School principal Erin Walters with regard to student teachers.  Student teachers are able to learn new strategies and receive feedback from experienced education providers.

Kluge was happy to open up her classroom to a student teacher.  Elmi is the second student teacher she has hosted. “Teacher preparation programs are intensively focused on content, lesson planning, and assessment, but student teaching gives the teacher candidate an opportunity to see what works well and what does not.” says Kluge..  

Schools receive an invitation to host student teachers.  Before being placed in a specific classroom, interviews are conducted with all parties to ensure the match is a good fit.  Kluge comments on the importance of first-hand experience in a classroom saying, “Providing a high quality placement for prospective educators helps us attract and retain high quality people in the field.  Also, teachers who enter the profession with strong experiences and skills are more likely to be successful.” She feels the profession is not attracting the number of qualified individuals as it used to due to decreased benefits and a negative view of education.  Additionally, having a few months to gain confidence before teaching independently is important for those entering the classroom for the first time.

More Than Herding Cats
Elmi has enjoyed his time in the classroom and feels the experience is beneficial.  “If it were up to me I would make students do a whole year of teacher assisting and a whole year of student teaching.” he says.  “I learned more about classroom management in the last three months than I did when I took a course on management skills.” Being able to put what he has learned in his own classes into action under a mentor is an important part of student teaching.  

One of the first questions he is asked when telling people he is student teaching in a kindergarten class is, “Is it like herding cats?”  Elmi admits he thought he wanted to teach upper elementary aged students but his time at Bushnell has made the idea of K-1 grow on him. He feels fortunate to have been placed with Kluge calling her “not only a mentor but also a friend”.  

A vast amount of knowledge has been obtained during his time in a student teacher role, however, learning the importance of keeping good records, being able to analyze data which has been collected, and using these two things to drive instruction are near the top of the list.

Lessons Learned
As first trimester of school for Bushnell students has progressed, so has the ability and comfort level of Elmi’s teaching. One of Kluge’s goals for the semester was to provide effective instructional strategies and methods.  “Most of all, I want him to understand how to prioritize what really matters in education – relationships and experience.”she says. She feels it is important in any classroom setting that the teacher develop relationships with each student, getting to know strengths and weaknesses to help in the education process.  That personal connection is one which can go a long way.

In his final weeks at Bushnell, Elmi designed and taught a lesson based on kindergarten standards “create a timeline using events from their own lives (e.g., birth, crawling, walking, loss of first tooth, first day of school)” and “describe ways people learn about the past (e.g., photos, artifacts, diaries, stories, videos)”.  Part of the lesson included students bringing in an “artifact” from their past to share with the class.

A cross-country coach at Forest Hills Central High School, Elmi is always eager to play and run around with students.  When asked about how they feel about Mr. Elmi, students replied using adjectives including “cool” and “fun”. Male teachers at the elementary school level aren’t as common, especially in lower grade levels.  During his time at Bushnell, Elmi has also been able to be a male role model for students.

Elmi with his students and mentor Kluge showing off artifacts. Photo courtesy of Emma Kluge.

Looking Forward
As Elmi transitions from student, to student teacher, and now teacher, he takes things he has learned through his own studies as well as in the classroom with Kluge.  However, the teaching can often be a two-way street. While Elmi looks for feedback from those around him, he has also developed and incorporated some of his own routines in the classroom which Kluge plans to continue.  

Starting in mid-December Elmi will be taking on a role at Vista Charter Academy in Grand Rapids.  Teaching for a few years abroad is also of interest. He’s currently eyeing Western Europe and Southeast Asia.  Regardless of where he ends up in the near and distant future, it’s clear he will make an impact on all he comes in contact with – students, teachers, and other in the education system.  “Mr. Elmi is going to be a fabulous educator – the students he works with will be very lucky to have him!” concludes Kluge.

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