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UWEC's English Education program left Abby Strom well-prepared for her career

| Abby Strom, 2017 graduate

Abigail Strom

It’s the first day of student teaching and my heart is racing. How do I introduce myself to these students? What will my cooperating teacher be like? Will they be super controlling and not let me do anything? Have my classes actually prepared me for being in the classroom? Will students actually listen to me? How am I going to remember all of their names? When will I get to pee?!

By the end of student teaching, I felt like a pro. Next thing I know I’ve been hired at a school and am being introduced to all of these veteran teachers—then it sinks in—I know nothing!

These are some of the thoughts I’ve had over the past year on my journey as a newbie teacher. What scared me the most was hearing about how many years these educators have been teaching. However, during teacher workshop week, before school started, I became confident in what I know, a lot of which is the new and up-and-coming in the education profession. During workshop week, it was to my surprise that I was one of the few people that actually understood some of the ideas my middle school is trying to implement. In fact, I spoke several times about my own knowledge and experiences with things such as Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Notice and Note reading strategies and the formative vs. summative grading system.

Going into the teaching profession, I’ve always been told that nothing prepares you for having your own classroom. I have to disagree though. Both my courses at UW Eau Claire and my student teaching experiences prepared me extremely well for my career.

Within the first month and a half of school, many veteran teachers have said to me “you don’t seem like a first year teacher.” These compliments have made me feel extremely encouraged and capable. My mentor and partner at the middle school, the other 7th Grade English teacher, Tonja, has told me multiple times “stop me if I’m ever going too fast or if you have a question because I have to keep reminding myself you’re a first year teacher!” When I first started this position I was very nervous; however, hearing such compliments have helped me realize how competent I am as an educator, even if I am a newbie.

Originally, I came to UWEC wanting to be a Comprehensive English Education Major so that I could make my career teaching but fulfill my dream of becoming a young adult author. Once I started my education classes though, my passion for education grew. I found myself doing research on my own and joining organizations to further my knowledge in pedagogy (education instructional methods). Due to my newfound passion, my direction changed solely to being an English Education major.

UWEC helped me find my passion for education and helped me learn an abundance in general pedagogy, and specifically, English/Language Arts (ELA) pedagogy. My abilities in critical thinking and analytical skills have flourished thanks to my English class at UWEC. In addition, my English classes helped me see beyond the classic literary texts. I have used picture books and Disney clips in my 7th grade classroom to teach reading strategies that encourage us to analyze, ask questions, and engage with the text. It’s so fun when a student comes up to you and says, “your class was the highlight of my day,” or “Ms. Strom, I love being in your class!” or “I can’t believe we just analyzed that much from a two-minute clip from How to Train Your Dragon.” Because of my English classes at UWEC I know how to teach and encourage my students to use critical thinking and analytical skills, and to use them with non-canonical texts to illustrate how they will use these skills in their everyday lives—not just when we read A Christmas Carol, the play.

My education courses certainly made me see that not just anyone can teach. In fact, some might go their entire lives thinking they will be an educator but they find out the hard way that this career is not for them. It takes a special kind of person to scaffold learning, to provide socio-emotional support, to provide classroom management, to collaborate with all stakeholders (some that you’ll agree with and some that you’ll… not so much agree with—hypothetically speaking of course): other teachers, parents, administration, and most importantly, the students themselves. These are difficult things to do just by themselves, but now stack them all on top of each other to be done at the same time!

My education courses showed me that teaching is not about teaching the content, it’s about teaching the whole student. As an English teacher I do not just teach Language Arts; I teach children about life through the content of Language Arts. My education courses showed me that teaching is about providing students with a welcoming, safe environment, making sure students can relate to the content and can see why what we’re learning is important. On the first day of school I told my students that everything we do in this classroom will help them in life. I told my kiddos to question me at any time “Ms. Strom, why are we learning this?” or “Ms. Strom, why are we doing this?” Essentially, I wanted to encourage my students to challenge me, but I also wanted them to know that I am not going to give them busywork; everything will have a purpose.

My courses at UWEC showed me that learning is life-long and that it should be fun. Every day when students enter my classroom they will hear Disney music playing. Although it’s painful to me when they can’t always name the movie it’s from (come on, how have you not seen Lilo and Stitch!), they have such a fun time simply tapping their foot, or joining me in dancing and singing. From time to time I’ll leave the song on past our class start time just so we can finish singing to it (mainly Hakuna Matata). My education classes taught me that being at school is not just about learning—it’s also about having a community amongst one another. Singing to Disney music is just one of my ways of doing so.

As teachers, we will always have panic-induced questions running through our minds like “will this lesson work!?” But after completing my coursework at UWEC, I truly believe we’re already ahead. UWEC helped me find one of my passions and prepared me so well that others in the profession have noticed and complimented. At the end of the day I have to thank UW Eau Claire, mainly my professors, for successfully sending me off as a well-prepared and excited educator.