Classroom connections: Partnership makes New College students teachers for a month

Classroom whiteboards typically get wiped clean every day or so. But in a corner of a board in Mollie Grady’s classroom, a portrait in red marker has endured for more than two months now.

It’s a self-portrait, actually, by Wesley Thorp, a third-year student at New College and an accomplished painter. He was a teaching intern in Grady’s art class, and he sketched it on the board with a goodbye message to the students.

On a return visit in early April, the portrait was still there – though the students update it regularly with “Wes-isms,” the obscure facts and bits of wisdom he regularly imparted.

Thorp is one of five New College students who taught at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Bradenton for the month of January. Students pair up with one or more teachers with whom they share an interest. Thorp’s field of study is fine arts, so he worked with Grady and Peggie Johnson, assisting with the Advanced Placement art, video production and photography classes. And he also has studied Latin at New College, so he worked with Saint Stephen’s Tony Haakman, teaching the language to middle-schoolers.

The teaching internship program, in its fifth year, was born of a chance meeting of Haakman and New College’s David Rohrbacher, when their young daughters became friends.

Rohrbacher, a classics professor, had a student who was looking for teaching experience. He called Haakman, and the internship idea began.

Typically, New College students spend a week observing, then do a week of jointly planned tasks, and then write and teach from their own lesson plans.

Rohrbacher said the St. Stephens program has been tremendous for New College students. “The teachers work closely with the students, they mentor them and give them career advice,” he said. “They've really turned this into an amazing educational experience for the students.”

Haakman said the students are a great addition to his school’s educational program, with benefits for both teachers and the college students.

“Most teachers love to teach because they love to learn, and this is one more opportunity for them to learn,” he said. “The students always bring something fresh and new into the classroom, and the enthusiasm this year was terrific. It almost made me envious – we didn’t have anything like this when we were in college.”

Grady found Thorp to be as much a colleague as an intern. “Being a new teacher, it was interesting to communicate about different teaching styles in a candid way with Wes,” she said.

The St. Stephens teachers find that the college students work particularly well with the high-schoolers. “It helps with Wes being closer to their age,” Grady said. “They felt a connection to him that they might not have felt with a teacher. He was able to introduce them to art and music and ideas that were relevant to them. It was great to see him interacting with the students and establishing a rapport with them in such a short period of time.”

Thorp hopes to eventually work in arts education, and said the experience was important for him.

“I got a lot of insight into the teaching profession and the behind-the-scenes aspects of how it functions,” he said. “I also got a chance to see the way teachers created different versions of the same course based on the needs of the students in the individual classes, which is not an experience that you get going through high school and just being in the courses. It definitely made me more interested in the teaching profession, while also making me more aware of the less-apparent difficulties that teachers face on a daily basis.”

He found the St. Stephen’s students to be down-to-earth and fun to work with, and on his return trip it was clear, from the cries of “We love Wes!” that the feeling was mutual. They demanded one more “Wes-ism,” and he gave them one: “The word ‘sinister’ originally meant left-handed.”

And so the self-portrait is primed to last a while longer.

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