The reality of Irene Quintero’s first year as a public school teacher did not exactly match her expectations. Ms. Quintero, who teaches math at Morris Innovative High School in the Dalton Public School System, expected a rocky year of fumbling her way through a minefield of rookie mistakes.
Instead she felt in control, confident, and well prepared not just to teach algebra and geometry but also to manage classrooms full of teenagers.
Ms. Quintero attributes her smooth first year to the preparation she received in Dalton State College’s teacher education program and particularly to the classroom training she received as a student teacher.
“I felt on top of it,” says Ms. Quintero, who is currently teaching math in Dalton State’s Summer Academy for pre-college students. “I think it was from spending every day of my final semester in the classroom student teaching.”
Every second semester senior education major spends Monday through Friday, January to May, in the classroom learning from a mentor teacher, Ms. Quintero says. She was required to teach 10 lessons during that time but feels fortunate that her mentor teacher, Bob Pritchard of North Murray High School, allowed her to teach as much as she wanted.
“I am so thankful he let me do that,” Ms. Quintero says now. “He gave me great advice on how to build relationship with students and how to relate content to them. As a first year teacher at Morris Innovative, I felt I was doing something I’d been doing a long time. I don’t think there was ever a moment that I didn’t know what was expected of me because of the training I received .”
“Some students didn’t realize it was my first year teaching,” she recalls, adding that she was initially apprehensive that her young age would be a disadvantage among high school students. “What I found was that I could build better relationships because we know so many of the same things,” she says.
Ginny Johnson also emerged from her first semester as a full time teacher feeling that significant as the challenges were, she was well prepared and up to the task.
Ms. Johnson graduated from Dalton State last December with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and took a job in January teaching fifth grade at Chattanooga’s Woodmore Elementary School. Her class had been without a teacher since November and Ms. Johnson, eager to launch her teaching career, was happy to sign a contract.
“I credit this teacher education program for preparing me to teach, but I’m not sure anything could have fully prepared me to teach in the intercity,” she says, adding “But I did it, and I did it well. I feel like I went in and made a difference.”
Ms. Johnson’s fifth grade students earned higher-than-predicted scores on standardized tests in language arts, writing, math, science, and social studies. “They rocked it,” she says with obvious pride.
“This program (at Dalton State) taught me to believe in my kids and their ability to learn,” she said. “Professors like Dr. (Sharon) Hixon, Dr. (Mary) Edwards, and Dr. (Claire) Hite made me believe in children’s literature and how it can impact all learning.”
“This program is tough,” she says. “It was hard, but this school was phenomenal. It changed me, and I believe it showed me that teaching is what I was meant to do.”
Teaching was not Ms. Johnson’s original career choice. After earning an associate degree in journalism from Dalton State a decade ago, she struck out for Atlanta but eventually felt the tug to come back for more education and a different degree.
“I almost didn’t get into the (teacher education) program because of my previous GPA. I didn’t care much about grades as an 18-year old kid, but this time I really wanted to be here,” she said, adding that she maintained a near 4.0 in the teacher education program. “I was surprised that in addition to education courses I had to take more math and more science.”
The path to the schoolroom was different for Ms. Quintero who says “I think I’ve wanted to be a teacher since middle school. Math always came easily to me, and other kids wanted to sit by me so I could help them. I realized I was good at explaining math to them, and I thought ‘why not do this for the rest of my life?’”
The greatest satisfaction for Ms. Quintero comes from seeing a student finally grasp an elusive math concept. “I can tell when they’re frustrated. Some students are afraid to say anything, and so I approach them individually. Others are not shy and ask for help. It just feels really good when they get it … I know what it’s like to want to quit. For those kids who light up and say ‘Wow, with you it finally clicks!’ That feels really good, and I think maybe they won’t give up on math,” she says.
“I love teaching,” she says. “I don’t know what else I could do for the rest of my life.”
“We’ve hired a number of Dalton State graduates and found that the preparation they receive is second to none,” said Dr. Phil Jones, principal at Dalton’s Park Creek School.
He cited Dalton State’s English as a Second Language endorsement that prepares students to teach children for whom English is not the first language, which includes the majority of students at Park Creek. “They understand how ESOL students learn differently,” he said, adding that some new teachers are able to extend that knowledge to teach other special needs students.
“They have a strong instructional foundation and a great work ethic," said Dr. Jones. "I’ve had the privilege of teaching some classes at Dalton State and my children went there – I know the rigor. I’ve seen the level of preparation and know they are ready to take on the additional learning that comes from being a teacher. I’ve been very, very satisfied with the candidates we’ve hired from Dalton State.”