Being greeted by her professor with a high five and a “How are you doing today?” is just one of junior Haley Koenig’s favorite parts of majoring in elementary education at Kansas State.
The opportunities to collaborate on lesson plans and engage with local elementary students are also two other unique things that students like Koenig encounter on a daily basis as a part of their major.
In the classroom, Koenig said students regularly work closely together planning and presenting miniature lesson plans. In several of Koenig’s courses, the students will each come up with a lesson to present for 15 to 20 minutes and then take turns presenting. When they’re not presenting, the students are role playing to create an elementary classroom atmosphere.
“The other day, I had to pretend to be a third-grader in one of my classes while another girl was presenting her lesson,” Koenig said.
Koenig said she has wanted to be a teacher since she was five years old, and a handful of her teachers at Blue Valley High School confirmed to her that choosing to major in elementary education with a concentration in special education was the right choice.
As of now, Koenig said she wants to teach kindergarten before getting her master’s degree in special education to either become a special education teacher or an autism behavioral specialist.
Macy Eatinger, junior in elementary education, said the professors also do a nice job of organizing classes in such a way that all the students become close and bond with one another.
“My favorite part is that everyone in the major is so talkative and open,” Eatinger said. “Teachers like Laura Tietjen, for example, really create a family bond among everyone.”
Koenig also said she has noticed qualities in the education professors that she hasn’t seen in any of her “general” professors. One instance that stood out to her was when she was in one of Tietjen’s classes — Tietjen scheduled meetings with all of her students three times a semester to get know everyone and check in with them.
“I thought it was really unique because not a lot of teachers will take the time out of their busy day to meet with each and every one of their students just to talk to them,” Koenig said.
Koenig said it is casual meetings like those and enthusiastic greetings from her professors that make her feel cared for in the education department.
Students in elementary education also have the opportunity to get away from the K-State campus and into the classrooms of local elementary schools for early field experience. Often in their sophomore year, students will go into elementary school classrooms to observe and interact with the children. It’s similar to student teaching, except they don’t teach lessons.
“It’s so fun being able to actually interact with the kids because in typical programs at other schools, you don’t really get to go into the school until you’re student teaching,” Eatinger said.
Makenzi Carlgren, sophomore in elementary education, is currently doing her early field experience in a fifth-grade classroom at Ware Elementary School in Fort Riley. In the classroom, she observes the fifth-grade teacher working with students on their math assignments and facilitating class discussions over readings.
“I think early field experience is beneficial to the elementary education curriculum because it gives students a chance to see themselves in a classroom on the teacher’s side before getting too far into the program,” Carlgren said.
Carlgren said early field experience has also reminded her about the behind-the-scenes things teachers do, such as creating lesson plans and meeting criteria set by the school district. No matter how much planning goes into a lesson, Carlgren said, it will never go as expected because students are always unpredictable.
Despite being a junior who already completed her field experience, Koenig still goes into a kindergarten classroom at Northview Elementary School in Manhattan for four hours every Friday. In the classroom, she spends her time observing, grading assignments and helping students name shapes.
“I remember the first day I went in there, they were all taking a nap and I thought, ‘Wow, I wish I was still in kindergarten,’” Koenig said.
Koenig said she loves being in classrooms because it’s a fun way to build relationships with the kids, and she especially loves being around kindergarteners because they’re always excited to be at school. Their enthusiasm is one of the many reasons Koenig wants to go on to teach kindergarten after graduating.
“If I get to teach kindergarten, I think it’ll be fun to watch them grow up all the way through elementary school,” Koenig said. “While, if I taught fifth grade for example, I’d have the students for a year, and then they’re gone.”
Eatinger still goes into classrooms every Friday at Lee Elementary School in Manhattan for a buddy check-in and check-out program.
“I go around to different classrooms and check in with different students that typically have different behavioral issues,” Eatinger said. “I go and ask them how their day is going, if they’re behaving, and then they’ll typically talk to me about their life.”
When she entered K-State two years ago, Eatinger initially started out in secondary education wanting to teach special education in high schools. Eatinger said she was involved in a peer tutoring program when she was in high school that she was extremely passionate about.
Unfortunately, Eatinger said the secondary education program here did not solely offer a concentration in special education, while the elementary education department did. Around the same time, she also came to the conclusion that her strength was in interacting with young children.
“After I started taking education classes, I felt like high school students wouldn’t really take me seriously,” Eatinger said. “Little kids are more my forte.”
Eatinger said being in the elementary classrooms has also shown her the importance of teachers beyond educating the younger generation.
“Teachers wear a lot of hats, and sometimes teachers may be the only positive role model in a child’s life,” Eatinger said. “In that case, we can make a significant difference in a child’s life.”