LAWRENCE — Traditionally, students studying to become teachers learn the craft in two places: the university classroom and through student teaching. A University of Kansas professor has authored a study advocating that community-based field experience as a third space of education would provide more well-rounded teachers and complement the traditional two spaces of teacher education.
Heidi Hallman, assistant professor of curriculum and teaching, led a project in which she worked with a cohort of teacher education students who mentored homeless youths as their community-based field experience. The students kept journals chronicling their views of the craft of teaching, their perception of self and how they changed throughout their experience. All too often, would-be teachers view the relationship between educator and pupil narrowly.
“A lot of times, pre-service teachers want to assume the role of teacher right away. The role of teacher as authority figure,” Hallman said. “When you have a community-based setting where they’re still expected to teach the students something, some of those formalities are removed.”
The teacher candidates tutored students at a service center for homeless families once per week for a school year. During that time they learned how validating the youths’ out-of-school interests could augment their in-school education, as evidenced in their writings and interviews.
One teacher candidate noted a youth with whom she worked showed interest in cars and would read automotive magazines. Another noted that the young lady she worked with was fascinated with young adult fiction vampire books. The prospective teachers noted that while those interests weren’t what would normally be covered in the classroom, they could lead to discussions on material that was assigned or as a way to frame lessons on school material.
“The prospective teachers got to see that literacy learning might not only be happening in the classroom. They saw a broader picture of the students’ lives and how that affects how they learn,” Hallman said.
Perhaps more importantly, the experience gave the teacher candidates a deeper understanding on how a student’s unique life experience can influence his or her decision making and behavior in school.
“They learned how the context of homelessness can play into the decisions these students make,” Hallman said. “They quickly realized these students have agency, they’re not just homeless youth.”
As evidenced in their writings, the prospective teachers’ preconceived notions on homelessness were quickly challenged during the experience. The aspiring teachers also spoke with one another during their mentorship about how stereotypes they held prior to the experience changed. That illustrates the value of having students take part in a sustained community-based field experience, Hallman said.
Whether it’s at a homeless shelter or any other community-based agency, Hallman advocates offering pre-service teachers diverse field experiences
Field experience should be a place for inquiry, Hallman argues, where prospective teachers question their previously held beliefs about teaching, how they can reach a diverse group of students and what it means for them as an individual to be a teacher. The practice of student teaching, or observing a working teacher in the field, can often lead students to simply replicating what they’ve seen done in classrooms. When combined with sustained, diverse, community-based field experience, teacher candidates can learn to combine their personal experiences with what they’ve learned from established educators.
“I think having a community-based experience can disrupt that duplication status,” Hallman said. “I don’t think it should replace the old model, but it could be built in.”