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A tradition that every elementary education senior must do

College of Education event offers participants a vision of teaching that is both informative and transformative

 

The tradition — the Elementary Senior Showcase — requires graduating seniors within the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education to present their original classroom-based research across one of four content areas: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies or Science.

"It also offers our faculty a chance to reflect on and self-evaluate our program," says ITE Hungerpiller Professor Dr. Heidi Mills, "by giving us a glimpse of what is working well, as well as courses we might need to revise. It’s a substantive celebration and invitation to engage in professional conversations."

This year, that day dawned on May 1 just before 8 a.m. with the college’s Dean Lemuel Watson welcoming attendees.

"The Elementary Senior Showcase is a significant rite of passage from undergraduate life to engaging in the world as professional educators," says Mills. "It is a celebration of our students’ growth as teacher researchers."

This year’s keynote speaker, Megan DeLeon Drayton, graduated from the elementary education program just four years ago. She illustrated what is possible for elementary teachers who take the beliefs and practices they learned in the program and make them their own as teacher researchers.

Megan exemplifies the power and potential of teacher inquiry, as demonstrated by the fact that she is one of the top three contenders for the 2015 Lexington-Richland District Five Teacher of the Year. It is rare for an early career teacher to rise so quickly. Megan embraced and enacted what she learned at USC, and has continued growing and changing through active engagement and leadership in ongoing professional development at Dutch Fork Elementary.

Drayton expressed how important it is to hear children and let them know that they are heard, valued, and respected. She punctuated her address with stories of her personal challenges and rewards, and emphasized the importance of passion, compassion, humor and style in professional and personal lives.

“When you reach the point where you are consistently outgrowing yourself as you align your instructional practices to your beliefs, and move away from what is typical and towards what is possible, you may find yourself surrounded by no one…at first. But trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust the process. Let your beliefs guide you. We know we are growing as facilitators, teachers, people when our beliefs are ahead of our practices. Lean into the tension and discomfort because the growth that will come will fulfill you in ways you didn’t know could exist. Your excitement will be contagious, and others will want to share your joy and passion.”  

The following hours were tightly scheduled with three, one-hour breakout sessions. Within each session, concurrent twenty-minute presentations were conducted throughout the college.

"I feel that some of the greatest benefits of the showcase," says ITE Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, Mathematics Education, Dr. Kelley Buchheister, "come from the questions that the seniors ask each other about their internship experiences, such as the effectiveness of different strategies, techniques or instructional practices. In several of my sessions, they were asking each other,'So how did you do this? What happened if the child did this, or responded this way?' Or, 'What if your students do not want to participate?' These issues are valuable ideas to consider as a classroom teacher.”

After presenting, students gathered in Drayton Hall to hear closing remarks by ITE Professor Dr. Thomas Hodges and Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Zach Kelehear.

“Your work is very validating for us,” said Hodges. “It informs us where we want to go next. A lot of what you see in your programs over the last few years is constructed around the things that we’ve learned by taking part in the showcase and thinking deeply with the students. In doing so, these students are helping the faculty improve to better serve future cohorts.”

Kelehear concluded the event by congratulating and thanking the students for spending their years of study with the college, and noting, “We are a better place for your having been here.” Kelehear quoted Adlai E. Stevenson’s 1954 address to the graduating class at Princeton, stating, "Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don't forget when you leave why you came."

Kelehear challenged the seniors to remember why they came to the USC College of Education to become a teacher.

“One of your chief successes will be measured to the degree to which you remain connected to people and things that matter,” said Kelehear. “Teaching is noisy, busy and it’s easy to get distracted. When the children come into the classroom, create a place where their presence will be acknowledged. Welcome them to your space. As you create a space and a place for children, create a place where caring is paramount — honor their presence and celebrate life that you have together.”