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Bethel and Hesston students hear top Kansas teachers

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Teacher education students from Bethel and Hesston Colleges had a chance recently to hear the Kansas Teacher of the Year team talk about why they teach.

Five of the eight team members, which include the Kansas Teacher of the Year (KTOY) as well as the regional finalists, joined the college students Feb. 26 on the Bethel campus to give advice and answer questions about the profession.

Doug Siemens, Bethel College director of elementary education, coordinated the event. While teaching at Newton High School, Siemens worked with Mary Bradshaw, a KTOY finalist who now teaches English language learners (ELL) at Chisholm Middle School.

“I invited Mary to come and speak to my Reading and Language Arts practicum class,” explained Siemens. “I wanted her to give us some strategies on teaching reading and writing to ELL students in the regular classroom.

“She agreed – then in January, the team was doing a site visit [to] USD 373 and Bethel’s teacher education department staff was invited to a luncheon at Kauffman Museum, where we got a chance to visit with all eight of the Kansas Teacher of the Year teachers. At that meeting, Cindy Couchman [math teacher at Buhler High School and 2009 Kansas Teacher of the Year] decided that the entire group should come, and she scheduled her Bethel visit in addition to all of the other visits she is and will be making this year.”

The presenters all shared an enthusiasm for their jobs. Jennifer Hartman, music teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shawnee, said, “I teach because I’m passionate about education and I’m passionate about kids.” Mary Martha Good, kindergarten teacher at Skelly Elementary School in El Dorado, echoed that sentiment: “I can make a difference in somebody’s life.”

The experienced teachers gave advice to the future teachers in the audience, explaining that communication with parents is important – both in terms of discipline and accolades. Community involvement is also essential, whether that means inviting guests into the classroom or taking the class out into the community.

Couchman spoke about building relationships, stressing that students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. She also encouraged the teacher education students to have a sense of humor. “Teachers who laugh at themselves are the best teachers.”

The teachers acknowledged the need to find a balance between their careers and life outside of teaching. They encouraged the education majors to collaborate with other teachers and use classroom volunteers.

Bradshaw asked if the students felt “the wind blowing through the room,” saying, “Education is transforming as we speak.” She went on to explain that teachers now need to worry about meeting global standards in education.

The presenters’ enthusiasm for teaching convinced Renicia Yoder, Bethel freshman elementary education major from Albuquerque, that she made a good choice to major in education. “I learned that being a teacher is one of the most important professions that exist,” she said. “Not only are you impacting the lives of your students but they are also impacting yours.”

Nicole Schmidt, Bethel junior elementary education major from Newton, also caught the spirit, saying, “The energy and passion [the teachers] had for the profession just got me excited about becoming a teacher all over again. I can't wait to get into the classroom.”

Kaylee Wiechman, senior elementary and special education major from Valley Center, agreed. “Just hearing about their experiences and joy they get from their job was helpful,” she said. “They spoke about how great of a reward it is to be a teacher and make a difference.”

In addition, the teacher education majors soaked up the advice and stories of the veteran teachers. “The most important thing I learned is ‘[Students] don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” said Schmidt. “I think that’s a key phrase in education today.”

Wiechman also noted the emphasis placed on building relationships. “It’s not all about academics. As a teacher, you are shaping the lives of others and you are a great role model and influence on them.”

Yoder appreciated the useful advice from the KTOY team. “They told us what to do in specific situations that we’re going to face, no matter what grade we plan to teach.”

Siemens hopes this joint presentation with Hesston College will be the beginning of more collaboration between the colleges. “It is one of my personal goals to cultivate a stronger relationship with Hesston College,” he said. “They are doing some fabulous work with early childhood education that I think Bethel could benefit from, and I also want Hesston College students to consider Bethel College if they are continuing their education and planning to earn a license to teach.

“I think this really energized the students and got them thinking about the teaching profession,” Siemens concluded. “As a teacher myself, I like hanging out with teachers, and these are the best of the best. It was a great afternoon.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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