by Mike Knaak
It’s 9 a.m. Reading time is over and now it’s time for prefixes. The second-graders dig in, led by Katie Strand.
She quizzes the engaged children about re-, pre- and un- as casually as if they were chatting about their favorite movie character or snack food.
Strand is student-teaching this year with Justin Foss at Pine Meadow Elementary School and the grammar lesson is just part of her day with 22 7- and 8-year-olds.
Strand, 28, plans to graduate next spring with a degree in elementary education from St. Cloud State University. After earning her license and certification, she wants to be an elementary school teacher.
But that’s months off. Now, she says, “I just soak it in and enjoy being a student-teacher. I’m learning and getting to know the children I’m with right now.”
She has plenty of support she says, starting with Foss, her “cooperating teacher.”
“He told me I can do this and just do it,” Strand said of Foss. “He helps me to formulate lessons and to work with kids. He’s a great role model. Seeing him teach makes me want to be a better teacher.”
At first, she said, she was nervous, but with his support, she’s gained more confidence.
She’s found support outside of the classroom too, where she comes from a family of educators. Parents Anne and Tim Bang, of Sartell, are also teachers. Anne teaches at Sartell High School and Tim teaches in Foley.
“They tell me ‘it’s about the kids,’” Strand says. They also offer feedback on lesson plans.
Strand’s older sister is studying for a doctorate in mathematics at Iowa State University so she can teach too.
Strand’s husband, Daryn, works at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System, and the couple’s home in Sartell includes daughters ages 3 and 5 months.
Strand will be with her classroom family at Pine Meadow through the school year, with brief interruptions for class back on the St. Cloud State campus.
“The things I’m learning in the classroom I can’t learn at SCSU,” Strand said. “The best way is to be in front of those kids.”
Strand returned to campus Nov. 18 and joined other education students in a meeting with Gov. Tim Walz. The governor talked about his teaching background, current education issues such as funding, teacher retention and growing mental health needs.
After Strand graduated from Sartell High School in 2009, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication psychology from St. Cloud State. From occasional work with children, she decided she wanted to work with children all the time as a teacher, so she returned to college.
Before starting her student-teaching this fall, she completed shorter field experiences with kindergartners at Pine Meadow and fourth-graders at Westwood Elementary School in St. Cloud.
Language arts, math and science are all part of the day’s mission for Strand and her second-graders. Each topic covers an hour to 90 minutes. To keep the young minds engaged, Strand leads stretch breaks and moves from topic to topic.
“Math scared me a good chunk of my life,” she said. Now “I love learning math with the kids.” Math for second-graders includes coin value, two-digit addition and addition facts.
Strand observed parent conferences with Foss and learned from the experience. “He let the students do the talking,” she said. “He’d ask the students how they felt they were doing.”
When talking about her student-teaching experience, Strand frequently mentions the culture and environment at Pine Meadow.
Other teachers welcome her to staff meetings and join her for lunch. “I come and listen,” she said. “That’s huge. It’s great spending time with them.”
“I can see kids respect each other and the teachers respect the kids,” she said.
photo by Mike Knaak
Student-teacher Katie Strand offers positive feedback to a second-grader during a lesson on prefixes at Pine Meadow Elementary School.