A longstanding and very successful summer practicum for pre-service teachers continues to help the Department of Curriculum and Teaching achieve one of its primary goals: developing well-prepared graduates who are ready to lead and excel when they enter the classroom.
“This outreach program for pre-school students gives our undergraduates their first real opportunity to teach,” said Dr. Sean Durham, an assistant professor in Auburn University’s College of Education and director of the enrichment program.
“These students plan and lead their own small group activities in the areas of art, reading, writing, physical knowledge, music, and several other areas.”
This year’s program attracted approximately 50 children from in and around Auburn. The classes met in Haley Center every day for three weeks in June, and included various field trips.
“This year we built our many learning activities around a general theme of swamps and mud and water and reptiles,” Durham said. “There were several ways we could go with that theme in art, building and design, and reading and writing. For example, we spent time every day creating large-scale paper mache figures. The most prominent one of these was a full-sized alligator, which had life-like textures and was painted to look like something that would crawl up out of a Louisiana swamp!”
One of the children told Durham about a book he had at home entitled Trosclair and the Alligator. When he brought the book to class, Durham realized that its author, Peter Huggins, was an Instructor in Auburn’s English Department. Huggins was promptly invited in for a reading.
“Our author event went over amazingly well,” Durham noted. “The book follows a classic story line of a young boy and his dog finding themselves trapped by a man-eating alligator in a remote Louisiana bayou. Trosclair is clever, and tricks the alligator into biting into a live hornet’s nest so they can make their escape. The story has elements of Odysseus tricking the Cyclops, as well as the Fox and the Grapes from Aesop’s Fables. The children absolutely loved the reading, learned a lot about Louisiana language and culture, and saw the marvelous illustrations that brought the story to life.”
Durham also remarked on Huggins’s patience and humor and ability to engage the children, leading them to ask several questions and think about different situations.
“It was really funny how, on our last day of class, we had an open house for the parents,” Durham said. “We placed the papier mache alligator at the front of the main activity room, but the children wouldn’t be satisfied until we put the hornet’s nest into the alligator’s mouth!”
The seminar also benefitted from a visit by Mr. Jason Ransbottom, a public affairs specialist from Power Tech America, the Hyundai Motors supplier that made a $40,000 donation to improve the program’s physical space over the course of five years.
The gift was conceived by the wife of Power Tech CEO Seongho Baek, who herself has an abiding professional interest in early childhood education.
“This generous gift continues to make a positive impact on our program,” Durham said. “Our block-building area used to be wide open but is now a ‘structured’ space with its own arched entrance. The blocks used to only interest boys but now the little girls are coming in and learning through block construction. We’ve also used the money to purchase high-end sand and water tables and many other learning tools that contributed toward our swamp theme. We wouldn’t be able to afford these without the support of Power Tech.”
In addition to the morning sessions with the children, the pre-service teachers were also in afternoon classes with their professors exploring the literature on child development, developing innovative teaching practices, and learning about multicultural education. About half of the children in the program are Korean and Chinese, many of whom speak little or no English.
“Respect is a critical part of everything we do and we ensure that each child and his or her work is respected as well,” Durham said “When we respect them they respect each other and we have fewer discipline problems. We want the children to learn to solve their own problems instead of letting their teachers do that for them.”
Durham emphasized that respect and problem-solving skills are all part of learning to impact a civil, democratic society, a core principle and value in all classes taught in the Department of Teaching and Curriculum.
“Overall, we had another great summer session,” Durham concluded. “We have excellent pre-service teachers here at Auburn who will make a positive impact on thousands of children and on our society at large. It is rewarding to be able to work them year after year.”