A teacher’s teacher

Education students get constant feedback in this classroom

When Beth White is in the classroom, the teaching hat never comes off. One minute she’s instructing her undergraduate education students about the finer points of literacy methods and reading assessment and in the next she’s guiding a room full of elementary students through a reading and writing exercise.

The clinical instructor of elementary education in USC’s College of Education also consults with the classroom’s regular teacher to provide the undergrads with an up-close look at how the teaching process really works.

“The most important tool in the classroom is the teacher’s brains,” she says, and to that end she strives to give her students the tools they need to help every student achieve.

“I tell them they have a tool belt full of strategies and teaching techniques. Which tool they pull out of their belt depends on the situation, and that’s what we’re learning every day.”

White began teaching middle school in 1990 and continued in the classroom for 10 years before earning an education specialist degree at Carolina. She now teaches literacy methods and reading assessment to pre-service teachers in the elementary education program.

“I have my students for two semesters, spring and fall, and when they first come to me we have to unpack how they learned to read and write,” she says. “Some of it may be effective practice and some not. Reading is a meaning-making process and writing is conveying meaning, so we have to start from there in learning the best practices for teaching students those skills.”

The cornerstone of White’s teaching is location — most of the instruction takes place in an actual elementary school classroom with fifth-graders in the spring and second-graders in the fall. The setting is authentic and provides frequent teachable moments, she says.

“One of the things students in the elementary program are taught is the importance of building relationships with students,” she says. “They spend time getting to know students because classroom management is about building community. If a student doesn’t trust you, he’s not going to learn.”

White devotes much of her time to observing in the moment and providing constant feedback to her students. “I’m trying to teach them to look for patterns in their small students, and I’m trying to do the same thing with the undergraduates,” she says, noting that she often records teaching sessions in the classroom so that her students can watch themselves interacting with the elementary students notice their own teaching patterns.

“I’m trying to grow them to become professionals who can one day become policymakers,” White says. “I want them to question the status quo and not to be program followers only. That’s how we can change things for the better in K-12 education.”

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