Teachers in Training

by Evanna Momtaj, Reporter

The northern corner of the school holds what most people know as the old lunch detention room and the Panther Preschool, but it is so much more than that. These rooms serve as instructional centers for those enrolled in the Instructional Practices-Intro to Teaching course. This class, which has been a part of the school since 1982, is an internship and occupational program in which students combine classroom and field work into an educational experience.

“Our students have so much experience by the time they leave,” Instructor Raylene Eldridge said. “They are all comfortable [with teaching.]”

The program is project-based and relies on collaborative work. The focus is not solely to improve the student’s teaching skills but to also improve technical skills which lend themselves well to leading a classroom such as writing and presenting. The curriculum taught in the class can be applied to both students’ lives and the field site.

“It’s such a safe environment,” Eldridge said. “We are like a very big family”

The class is double-blocked and takes place from zero hour to first period. The program consists of four rotations throughout the year of different working locations, one of which is held at the Panther Preschool. First-year students participate in the field on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and complete 150 hours of experience in the field over the year; students who are in the second year of the program complete 300 hours and participate in the field from Tuesday to Thursday. Students not only learn in the classroom, but also dedicate time to working at field sites. Participants of the program gain experience that most people don’t get until college.

“I think if anyone is even dreaming or thinking about [the program], they should consider it,” Eldridge said.

To be considered, students must complete an application and pass a background check for Plano ISD and Texas Child Care Licensing. Those in the program are held to a high level of accountability while a part of the program.

We focus on classroom management strategies [and] methods in teaching” Eldridge said. “We look at a higher level up”

McCutchan, who was a participant in the Intro to Teaching program in the 1980s back when it was called Child Care Management, has served as the director for the Panther Preschool for the past 16 years. McCutchan works with five students acting as teacher assistants at each learning station. The students rotate, teaching the different stations and getting to create their own lesson plan every week in addition to teaching the preschool curriculum.

“It led to a wealth of opportunities for me,” McCutchan said. “It opened many doors.”

The toddlers in the Panther Preschool are taught through various learning styles. The preschoolers learn about feelings and how their mind works as well as calming strategies.

“We learn [through] activity-based learning,” McCutchan said. “Through play, we create activities that are fun for children to learn through. It is actually quite challenging to create activities that children can learn while having fun.”

Senior Megan White has wanted to be a teacher since elementary school. She completed one rotation in a first grade classroom at Hunt Elementary School and is now in her second rotation at Boggess Elementary School. Her next rotation will be at the Panther Preschool.  

“It’s really fun how excited [the elementary students] are that [we’re] there,” White said.

Megan hopes to eventually teach students in kindergarten to second grade. Throughout her time in the program so far, she has encountered new responsibilities in leading a classroom, such as being in charge of the students’ morning tasks or helping students individually. She has also had to overcome obstacles such as finding the balance between teaching those who need help and pushing advanced students to excel.

“It really is a great opportunity,” Eldridge said. “They get such great experience from the program.”