For their final semester of college, eight seniors went back to high school.
As the culminating part of their teaching minors, these men and women traded their flexible college schedules for a post that required them to be professionally dressed and in the classroom of a local high school every morning before many of their peers had rolled out of bed. Two weeks ago, these students completed the required 14 weeks of classroom instruction, thus making them eligible to teach in Maine and some other states.
Torin Peterson, an English and theater major, taught two sophomore English courses and a creative writing elective for juniors and seniors at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. As the youngest child in his family, Peterson says that he has not had much experience being the sole authority figure. The first lesson Peterson taught was an introduction to a unit on plays, and he describes the experience as "terrifying" and "insane."
"I definitely expected something, and the complete opposite happened," he says.
Because he was preparing the class to study "Twelve Angry Men," a play about a jury, he decided to use a more current case?the Michael Jackson trial?as a springboard into the lesson.
"I'm not sure it was the wisest choice," he says.
Although it was difficult for Peterson to get the hang of things at first, he now feels comfortable going into a classroom and teaching.
"You don't really get exposure to [teaching], unless you jump right into it," he says.
History major Adam Paltrineri taught two classes of ninth grade ancient world cultures and one class of 12th grade government and politics at Mt. Ararat High School. Like Peterson, he says that preparing lessons became easier with time. Paltrineri was often required to teach lessons about subjects with which he was unfamiliar. At first, he says that he would devote much time researching the topics, but he eventually began using Wikipedia to get information the night before the lesson.
"If I don't know much about [a certain topic], I have to make sure that nobody can figure that out," he says.
Paltrineri, who has wanted to be a teacher since he took Education 101 as a first-year student, emphasized the difference between the way a typical college student lives and the lifestyle he had to take up as a student teacher. In addition to "putting on a shirt and tie in the morning while my roommates were still asleep," Paltrineri says he often had to pass up evening activities with friends in order to go to bed early.
"By the time you are a second semester senior, a lot of people are ready to make that jump," he says. "And I really don't mind dressing up in a shirt and tie every day, because when you look good, you feel good!"
Paltrineri describes his students as "world class comedians for ninth graders." In fact, he thought they were so funny that he kept a log of their best quotes, and would bring them back up in conversation months later. While he tried to stay in his "teacher" persona, "a lot of times things just slipped out."
"Some of the best moments are when you can sit back and laugh?not at them, but because they were genuinely trying to be funny with you," he says.
As a student teacher, Paltrineri had a "cooperating teacher" who served as a mentor and whose classes he eventually took over. Like other Bowdoin students in the program, Paltrineri was very grateful for such a role model and partner.
"It was seamless to step in for her," he says of his cooperating teacher, a 2001 Bowdoin graduate.
Most of the student teachers started teaching classes full time at the beginning of this semester. Because the schools at which they taught were in session in early January, the student teachers were required to return to campus weeks before their peers at Bowdoin. They were also unable to take time off during Bowdoin's Spring Break, but they finished the student teaching program in mid-April.
However, not all of the students in the program were solely occupied by completing their teaching minors. Although student teachers generally try to finish graduation requirements before their last semester, not all are able to do so.
For instance, Peterson is enrolled in two classes this semester, which meet at 2:30 p.m. every day. Because Mt. Ararat's school day is over at 2:12 p.m., Peterson would rush back to campus every day to make it to class on time.
In addition to taking classes, Peterson remains an involved student on campus. For instance, he led an Alternate Spring Break trip, serves on the Common Good Grant Committee, and sings in an a capella group and chamber choir. Although he says it was "a strange experience" to live in two worlds at once, after a while, they "blurred together."
Peterson says that after a day of teaching, "I went to chamber choir, and suddenly I was a student again."
On the other hand, Tasha Graff, who taught English at Morse High School in Bath, lives off campus. Although she admits that it was tough to wake up so early, overall it was not as difficult as she originally thought it would be to follow the schedule of a high school teacher, while still technically a college student.
"For me, I sort of naturally progressed to that role by senior year," she says.
In conjunction with instructing in the classroom, the eight seniors met on a weekly basis with each other as well as Visiting Fellow Suzanne Aldridge and Adjunct Lecturer Mary Lu Gallaudet of the education department.
Daphne Leveriza, who taught ninth grade English at Mt. Ararat High School, referred to these meetings as "group therapy."
"We definitely became a close group of friends who were going through this experience together," she says.
Graff, who notes that student teaching had its rough spots, says, "It's really great to have that network of people to rely on."
"It was definitely a huge challenge, and there were days that I felt like I was doing nothing right," she says.
"Once you get started, they really look up to you, and it's pretty inspiring," she adds.
For Paltrineri, who hopes to teach in an urban setting on the West Coast next year, teaching represents something that is both a personal challenge and an opportunity to give back.
His career as a teacher will enable him to "return some of the good educational graces that I had, because not every community has the educational resources that I had."
"[Student teaching] has paid off in spades for me. I don't know what it would be like stepping into teaching without student teaching under my belt," he says.