About 24 years ago, the first time Marion High School agriculture educator Mark Meyer had a student teacher in his classroom, he worried that he might not have what it took to be an effective mentor.
“There was some pressure with it,” Meyer said. “You wonder, ‘Am I a good enough teacher to be modeling techniques and provide a good experience for them?’”
Nevertheless, somewhere along the line he did something, if not multiple things, right. He recently was honored with a teacher mentor award from the Kansas Association of Agricultural Educators.
“I was humbled and flattered but I was thoroughly shocked,” he said. “I honestly thought they were pulling my leg.”
Despite his disbelief, the mentor award was no prank. Meyers believes that student teachers need a structured but fluid experience. Through that, they can discover an assortment of teaching techniques that can promote their confidence, allowing them to work with students in a variety of situations.
“When they come in, most of them were very nervous and they don’t know what they don’t know,” Meyer said. “Teaching is not an easy thing; the experience can be very overwhelming.”
Meyer’s spring 2011 animal science, agriscience, and welding intern, Krystal Nelson, now an ag teacher at Concordia High School, said Meyer helped her overcome her apprehension that she didn’t know the material she wanted to teach.
“He took the time to walk through my lesson plans with me and allowed me to practice welding,” Nelson said. “He also showed me tips to improve my skills. I think he taught me more about being myself as a teacher and building trust with your students to make your classroom a successful one.”
Jed Strnad, Agricultuer instructor and FFA adviser at Russel High School, said Meyer helped him gain classroom and shop management skills that he still uses today.
“I have patterned much of what I do in the classroom after Mr. Meyer whether it is from how I construct my curriculum to how I relate to students,” Strnad said. “Mr. Meyer was always professional with students but was also friendly and relatable.”
A willingness to work hard and an openness to learn were two qualities Meyer said student teachers needed to possess or acquire to become successful educators.
“Starting out, you have to plan most if not all of what you are going to do in your class periods,” Meyer said. “Most of the student teachers I had were pretty good about that, but some thought they could just wing it, and the hardest part was letting them experience the consequences of not being as prepared as they needed to be.”
When students became disengaged or unproductive in a class period because of a lack in a student teacher’s lesson planning, Meyer said most of his understudies tended to be harder on themselves than they needed to be, and altered their planning strategies.
“Having a trusting relationship can go a long way with classroom management and engaging students,” Nelson said. “I find it very important to create the type of relaxed and trusting environment that Mr. Meyer had in the classroom so my kids have a learning environment where they enjoy learning.”
Meyer said he borrowed grouping strategies and problem solving techniques from some interns. He also found it interesting to watch interns mature as teachers.
“It’s fun to see them develop a rapport with kids,” he said. “I think that is also the hardest part of being a mentor, too. I love what I do. In one sense you have to give that up, sit back, and let them develop them connect with the kids.”