Posted in Elementary Education Preparation, Secondary Education Preparation

Little Mavis

Little Mavis is an imaginary student invented by my principal. She’s pretend. Any resemblance of Little Mavis to a real student is merely coincidental. Nevertheless, Mavis was fundamental to my development as a teacher. She would randomly appear in conversations like this:

New Teacher: Do I really have to take my third period class to the high school Show Choir assembly? My third period is already behind all my other classes, and this will just put them further behind. (Side note to new teachers—this is probably not a good question to ask at faculty meeting.)

Principal: If Little Mavis has a brother in the Show Choir, she will go home broken-hearted that she didn’t get to see him perform. After school, her mother will call and be upset with both of us. So yes, you do need to go to the assembly. (Side note—this applied to every assembly, not just Show Choir. Little Mavis would be equally devastated if she didn’t get to see Birds of Prey or Secrets of a Mad Scientist.)

At our middle school of a thousand 6th and 7th graders, Mavis was the student we talked about most in faculty meeting. It was important that Little Mavis went home happy, healthy, and looking relatively the same as she did when she left in the morning. We were instructed to be vigilant and proactive during hall, bus, and lunch duty because it was important that Mavis felt safe, physically and emotionally. We were cautioned to be particularly sensitive to the sixth-grade version of Little Mavis because this was her first time away from the nurturing environment of her elementary school. Help her open her locker. Give her a pencil. Excuse tardies for the first week or two. Don’t tease her about the small stuffed animal attached to her backpack. (Side note—sixth graders cry easier than seventh graders.)

Mavis emerged in our English Department meetings too. We English teachers can sometimes be a snobby bunch, but even though she was a fictional character, we always treated Little Mavis with sensitivity and respect. I remember during my second year suggesting an idea that I thought would save us time and effort as teachers. My wise department chair taught me a lesson I will never forget. She simply stated, “That would be easier for us, but would it best for the students?”

You see, by keeping Little Mavis continually in our consciousness, our principal established an unwritten culture in our school: Our focus is on the students. This was before No Child Left Behind and Professional Learning Communities. Intuitively, we developed own versions of Differentiated Instruction, Engaging All Learners, and Teaching for Diversity because we cared about Little Mavis. As new initiatives were introduced over the years, they resonated with me because they validated my inner belief that every student matters.

Our school never had an actual student named Mavis during my tenure, but I’ve come to realize that she is every student. One whose grandparents settled our small community as pioneers and one who only knows only two words of English. One whose mom who chases her from soccer practice to piano lessons after school and one who takes care of her siblings every night while mom is out with her boyfriend. One who is writing a novel and one who still plays with Barbies. One who often tells you that you’re her favorite teacher and one who rolls her eyes every time you ask the class to take out paper and a pencil. And we all know male versions of Mavis; I called him Bubba.

Little Mavis blessed my life, for she taught me many things about teaching as the Savior taught. Get to know your students. Ask questions. Listen. And most of all, love and care about each as an individual. Mavis and Bubba inspire all of us to be better teachers.


Written by: Annette

Posted in Secondary Education Preparation

Student Teaching Away From Provo

Having grown up in sunny Arizona, it can be difficult to adjust to life in Provo during the winter months. Snow is almost foreign to me since winter in Arizona is comparable to Utah’s springtime. I have many friends who share my lamentation over the colder months, and many of them have looked for ways to escape Provo so as to avoid the snow, ice, and general gloominess. Some of these friends have taken a semester off to study abroad, teach English overseas, intern in warmer regions of the United States. This leads many education majors to wonder if there is a way to spend time away from Provo and still get college credit towards their education program requirements.

The McKay School offers two distant learning opportunities that education majors can take advantage of during their student teaching experience. These are opportunities for students finish their education programs with real schools and in real classrooms outside of Utah.

The first program allows students to complete their student teaching in Houston, Texas. The Aldine School District hosts this program, and takes student teachers from universities all around the United States including BYU.  This program offers students the chance to work in culturally diverse classrooms making it a great option for those who plan on completing their TESOL K-12 endorsement practicum alongside their student teaching. While students who choose this option are required to find their own housing in Houston, the school district offers some assistance in finding suitable apartments in safe, convenient locations. The Aldine School District also requires students to bring their own vehicle to Houston.

The second program is hosted in Washington D.C.  This program allows students to experience inner-city schools first hand. Currently, the mentor teacher who oversees this program is a BYU graduate who acts as a liaison for the student teachers and the public school system.  She also offers BYU students tours of the city’s major historical sites. Since housing is a large expense in D.C., the McKay School offers to subsidize a portion of this cost. Students also do not need to have a vehicle for this program since public transportation is the most efficient way of traveling to the schools. It is also important to note that while Washington D.C. does offer a culturally diverse teaching experience; students who plan on completing their TESOL K-12 practicum experience cannot do so in Washington D.C.

Student expenses for these programs include the cost of travel, housing, food, transportation to the school and normal BYU tuition. Those who are interested in either program should attend a general information meeting that is typically held during the first few weeks of each semester. They should apply for student teaching just like any other education major. In addition to applying for student teaching, candidates for these programs should obtain two letters of recommendation from faculty members. The forms for these letters are found with the student teaching application form.

For a long time, I was very interested in the Washington D.C. program. Since I am a TESOL K-12 minor and plan on completing my practicum alongside my student teaching, I am unable to take advantage of this opportunity. Many who have taken advantage of these programs find their experiences at inner-city schools very rewarding. Additionally, there is a certain feeling of confidence that comes to student teachers who succeed in these programs. While teaching out of Provo might seem like a ‘trial-by-fire,’it is an excellent way to gain added experience. For those looking to take a semester away, whether to avoid of the impending winter or just to get a break from the campus life, I would add this as an options.  It is a great way to experience a the world without getting behind in your education program.

I would like to invite any of you who have applied for one of these programs to share your experiences. Where do you wish to do your student teaching? What factors helped you decide to apply? For those currently in one of the programs, how has your experience been so far? I would love to hear from you.

Posted in Secondary Education Preparation

Praxis Exam

One of the things that stand out the most about my high school teachers was their endless knowledge of the subjects they taught. I remember thinking that my teachers were experts on algebra, biology, government, and history. This is a bit disheartening to think about, because I look at my own knowledge of the social sciences, and realize that I am no expert. How much of the subject matter should a good teacher know?

In 2002, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act. This act specifies that all teachers must be “highly qualified” in both content knowledge and teaching skills. In order to help identify teachers as highly qualified, several assessments have been developed to test teacher-candidates’ knowledge. The McKay School uses the Praxis exam as their assessment.

The Praxis is a national test that divided up into three parts. The first part of the exam, known as Praxis I, is comparable to a typical standardized test with a reading, mathematics, and writing portion. Some universities use the Praxis I as an entry requirement for all prospective teaching majors. My major, teaching social sciences, did not require me to take this exam prior to applying for the major, but I cannot say the same about all secondary education majors. You will need to check with your advisement center to see if you need to take the Praxis I.

The second Praxis exam, known as Praxis II, is the test that all secondary education major must take if they hope to graduate with their teaching degree and credentials. This exam assesses teachers’ content knowledge, and there are different tests for different subjects. Each teacher candidate should be familiar with which test is required for the subject they plan on teaching. The McKay school links all teaching majors and required Praxis II exams in a list that is posted online.

Since the Praxis II tests subject matter, it is important to know that almost anything from your content area could find its way on the test. This makes studying a daunting task, especially for those who finished their content classes many semesters previous. While there are different ways to study for the exam, I found that going through my old classroom notes and textbooks helped me refresh my memory of some of the basic principles that I could be tested on. Others have read books like World History for Dummies, or The Idiot’s Guide to Geography. Books like these are written to cover a broad array of ideas that within any subject.

Students must register for the Praxis II online, and they must pass the exam prior to their student teaching or internship. Since there are specific days that the test is offered, and fees associated with the assessment, it would be wise to start thinking about the exam early. More information can be found on the McKay School’s  Praxis II Webpage on the Praxis II as well as the offical Praxis site.

The last exam, the Praxis III, is an exam that teachers must take after their first few years of teaching. The test measures teachers’ ability to teach content area, assess students, teach new concepts. Since the test is taken by teachers, and not university students, it is best to spend your time preparing for the Praxis II now while keeping the Praxis III in mind for the future.

I would like to hear from any teaching majors who have had experience taking the Praxis II.  What was your experience like, and how did you study for the exam?


Posted in Secondary Education Preparation

How to Teach the Social Sciences

Occasionally, when I tell people that I plan on teaching history or government, they admit to me that they hated those two subjects in school. Upon further questioning, I discover that these people dislike the subject not because of some innate enmity toward George Washington or John Locke, but rather because they had a bad experience with a high school or college teacher. These teachers made social science an excruciatingly boring topic as they gave monotone lectures and ruthless exams.

Can poor teaching really make a good subject go bad? Ask any student at BYU that question, and I am certain you will get an answer in the affirmative! How, then, do you teach social studies so that they are enjoyable? I’ve dedicated this post to a few of my most memorable lessons from my high school government and history classes in hopes to give those in my same major some ideas for future classroom lessons.

Mr. Spears was my government teacher during my final year of high school. Other than the fact that Democrats and Republicans are political rivals, I didn’t know much about United States Government. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one in my class who had a lack of political understanding. Most students in my class had blank looks whenever Mr. Spears tried to get us to discuss the latest legislation in Washington.

In order to help us develop our own political opinions and to get us to simply enjoy U.S. Government more, Mr. Spears decided to hold a class debate. The class was divided into groups of six, and each group received a controversial government topic. One group got the topic of abortion, another was assigned the draft, and so forth.  Each group of six was then divided into two teams—one in favor of the topic, and the other against. We were given the charge to research our topic and create an argument to support our position.

I remember well my Catholic friends who were assigned the topic of abortion. At first, they were upset when they were assigned to argue for the issue. There was some strong protest from these students, but Mr. Spears explained that the best debaters had a view of both sides of an issue. He promised these students that if they developed a strong case for a topic they disagreed with, they would better know how to refute it in a real debate. To our surprise, on the day of the debate, when these students won, they admitted that they had indeed learned how to better defend their true position as pro-life supporters since they had mastered pro-choice rhetoric.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this debate was the importance of becoming an informed citizen. Mr. Spears opened the world of government to our class simply by bringing the subject matter into a world that we already understood. We contextualized the material so that we could form our own ideas and beliefs, and that is what made me love U.S. Government.

It was during my junior year of high school that I discovered my fascination with U.S. History. Mrs. Gould, my teacher, helped facilitate my love for the subject. Of all the awards she had been awarded during her teaching profession, the one she cherished most dubbed her “the weirdest teacher ever.” Indeed, weird was a good word for her, but it was her unique style of teaching that made history come alive.

During lessons on pioneer migration to the west, Mrs. Gould dressed up like a cowboy and spoke in a western accent. When we learned about political machines and the gilded age, she threatened that she would call her brute squad to ruff us all up if we didn’t vote Republican in the next election. Our discussions on the age of exploration were even more interesting. She dressed up like a Spanish Conquistador, ran around the room with a flag bearing her name, and randomly yelled, “I claim this land in the name of Gould!”

It was the unusual things that Mrs. Gould did that I remember the most. Attached to these strange memories are bits of knowledge that I gleaned from the lesson. It would be accurate to say that Mrs. Gould’s way of presenting the information created ‘enduring understandings.’ These are historical facts that I have remembered long after leaving high school, and I believe I will always remember these fact.

I recognize that every subject matter has interesting ways of teaching its curriculum. I would love to hear from any education major. What are some of the ways to teach your subject curriculum so that students remember the lessons years down the road?