From the Eyes of a Junior Teacher Candidate

It was so much easier building relationships with teachers in elementary, middle, and high school. In college, on the other hand, building relationships is far more challenging. You typically only have a professor for one semester, twice if you’re lucky. Not to mention there’s at least a hundred other students in your class, so the likelihood of your professor even knowing your name is slim.

Pictured is the junior middle grades cohort, lead by Dr. Kristina Falbe, following a discussion with Dr. John H. Lounsbury. From top left: Jordan Lee, Julianna Butler, Rachel Blevins, Courtney Carnes, Ryan Frisch, Olivia Pollifrone, Jordan Adicks, Brianna Tejeda, Maggie Endres, Ben Ford, Jerome Brown, Dr. Kristina Falbe, Clare Findling, Wimberly Tyler, Ellie Failla, Dr. John H. Lounsbury, Jessica Chatman, Rae Cathcart, Caroline Sweney, Haley Johnston, Mary Highfield, Ashleigh White, and Jessica Kelly.

At Georgia College & State University, the liberal arts university for the state of Georgia, located in the heart of Milledgeville, things are different. As a junior middle grades teacher candidate in the John H. Lounsbury College of Education (yes, home to the Dr. Lounsbury), I can say for certain that I have had the privilege of being part of the greatest middle grades program there is.

Our program is unlike most. As a sophomore in college, pre-education students apply for the exceedingly competitive education programs offered at Georgia College. Once admitted, you become a member of a cohort of roughly 20 other teacher candidates that you will spend the majority of your college days with.

Cohorts are led by mentor leaders—professors of your field of study who serve in some cases as your professor, your academic advisor, and more often than not, your counselor when life gets hard. I have been part of this program since August 2016, and I can already say that my mentor leader, Dr. Falbe, has made a difference in my life and in the lives of the other teacher candidates in our cohort.

Her office has served as a safe haven for me as I’ve had a few obstacles thrown my way. She has witnessed more tears fall from my eyes than I would like, but rest assured she has always acknowledged every tear that has fallen.

When anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks during the latter half of our first semester together, she was insistent that I take care of myself first and foremost. Rather than encourage me to wipe my tears, shake it off, and turn in my work, she met me where I was.

She taught me one of the greatest lessons I could have ever taken from this program—equity versus equality. This is something that I will hold near and dear to my heart as I become a middle grades teacher.

Students are going to have challenges in life, and rather than make sure that every student receives the same treatment, there are times when students will need accommodations to perform the same as the rest of their class. That is equity. While one student may only need one box to stand on to see over the fence, another student may need two. Regardless of what props them up, neither student is higher than the other.

My second semester with Dr. Falbe was just as impactful, if not more so. I began the semester strong. I established coping skills for my newly diagnosed anxiety disorder. And then something happened. One weekend I was sexually assaulted, and by someone I trusted wholeheartedly. I was broken.

The Monday following the incident I showed up late for class … I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the classroom where 20 pairs of eyes would be looking into my brokenness. I waited outside Dr. Falbe’s office, not knowing what to do. When class was dismissed and Dr. Falbe returned to her office, she was face-to-face, once again, with the same student who seemed to always have a problem.

She ushered me into her office, sat me down, and when I finally managed to say, “this weekend I was sexually assaulted, and I don’t know what to do” she froze and told me she was a mandated reporter. Oops. Well, I had no desire to press charges or anything of the sort. She helped me over the humps of dealing with Title IX, and told me that at any point I could use her office to get away from everyone.

She offered her ears, and more than anything, she offered her heart as I ran to her with my thoughts and fears. Getting out of bed in the morning was hard, so every day she texted or called to make sure I was up and ready to take on the day. She checked in with me periodically throughout the days, making sure I had a plan for the rest of the day. Even the most minor of details I would mention to her, she remembered and offered encouragement when she knew it would be difficult.

That is the kind of professor that you want all teacher candidates to have. A professor can be an expert in the field, know all of the learning theories there are to know, know the latest and greatest about all things middle grades, but it is not until they practice what they preach that they will be effective educators.

While she may not be teaching young adolescents, Dr. Falbe emulates the foundational principles outlined in AMLE’s This We Believe. The faculty in any college of education should always carry the character that you would want your teacher candidates to carry, and ultimately, the future of America to carry. Dr. Falbe is this professor to me.

I leave you with this question: Are you emulating the vary character that you would want all of your students to possess?