As teacher shortages continue among schools nationwide, an entirely different perspective can be seen at Gypsum Creek Middle School, one that offers a brighter look at the future of education in our county.
It all starts with one class: Abbey Pawlitzke’s Teaching 101 May Term project with her 14 future educators in the room, ranging from sixth to eighth grade, all eager to pursue careers in teaching.
From there, the Eagle County School District, Colorado Mountain College and our greater community come in to provide support. “Kids have opportunities for schooling at Colorado Mountain College and then any graduate of ECSD that comes back as a teacher has an automatic interview,” Pawlitzke said. “We really try to create the love of teaching in future teachers, and give them opportunities to come back to the community, or even stay.”
While the relationship with CMC is not contractually binding, local schools do keep an eye on students from our area pursuing teaching degrees, especially those going through CMC. “There are already a lot of ECSD graduates teaching in the school district, and we have quite a few of them who have come through our program,” said Elizabeth Qualman, director of teacher education at Colorado Mountain College. “We do have an understanding with ECSD that our teacher prep graduates do get prioritized.”
When the middle schoolers visited CMC on Thursday, Qualman was filled with joy by the curiosity and ideas that each participant brought. “It was great watching how excited they were to engage in the lesson I brought to them. One of the kids said, ‘This is such a cool college, I’m definitely coming here,’” Qualman added.
For Pawlitzke, the project is about more than just an M-Term. “Teaching is my passion and I love doing this,” Pawlitzke said, noting that the joy of teaching overwhelms the challenges often discussed in the public forum. “I want other people to experience the joys of it and experience the fun parts and not just read and hear about the bad headlines of teaching … There are some really awesome parts to teaching, like the students and the community and sharing what you love.”
With the support of her students, fellow staff and our community, Pawlitzke quickly realized she wasn’t alone. “And then it became super easy to fulfill two weeks of opportunities for kids,” she said.
As part of the Teaching 101 program, the Vail Daily team was invited to teach a “Journalism 101” class to the students so they can share their experiences. The following four subsections were prepared by the students during that session.
Experiencing the teaching career
Students at Gypsum Creek Middle School end the year with a two-week project-based learning opportunity. Students in Teaching 101 are interested in the career of teaching. “I selected teaching 101 as my M-term class because I like being around kids because you never know what they’re going to do or say,” said Kayla Caballero, a sixth grade GCMS student. “For example, when I went to toddler time at the Gypsum Public Library I saw toddlers interacting with the story by singing along, repeating after the librarian, and acting out the story. They were learning letters, how books work, and new vocabulary,” Caballero said.
Preparing to teach
Teaching requires a lot of planning and preparation. For instance, we had to prepare for a read-aloud at Gypsum Elementary School. We had to prepare a read aloud and we had to practice. “What I did to prepare for these field trips was, I took notes, read articles, watched videos, and checked out books for different grade levels. I also read to my peers and practiced my read aloud,¨ Kennedy Waltz, a student at GCMS said. We are learning how to be better teachers, and we have prepared and worked very hard to make all this possible.
Around the community for future teaching
In teaching 101 we have gone on many different field trips to different places. “We have gone to Red Hill Elementary School, Gypsum Elementary School and the Gypsum Library. We are also going on a field trip to Colorado Mountain College in Edwards,” said Kaylan Hernandez, an eighth-grader at Gypsum Creek Middle School. We got to observe a classroom and went to the library to learn about reading aloud. When we went to GES we got to do a read-aloud and observe different classes. On Thursday we are going to CMC to learn about courses teachers take, scholarships, and the life of a future teacher.
Learning outside the classroom
We have learned about the field of teaching for the past two weeks. We’ve gone to Red Hill Elementary School, Gypsum Elementary and the Gypsum Library. “I believe that we learned the most at Gypsum Elementary because we did the most there. We read aloud to a class and got the experience of being a teacher,” said Boris Gavrilov, an eighth-grade GCMS student. It was really interesting to get the feel of being a teacher because they participated a lot better than I thought they would. Overall, this was just a great experience and we would definitely do it again.
A project worth repeating
Pawlitzke’s project has sparked an idea that Qualman hopes will resonate across the district. “I want to reach out to the rest of the middle schools in the valley for next spring because we could do the same thing,“ Qualman said.
“I told them we really need to make teaching seem cool again. The pandemic has caused lots of stress for teachers so I asked the kids how they think they could make the teaching profession more appealing to future teachers. Almost every single group started with student relations and was very student-centered. I asked them to think about what your students will appreciate and somehow we get can get through this (teacher) shortage,” she said.
Kaylan Hernandez, Tovah Pollack, Boris Gavrilov, Abbey Pawlitzke, Jaiden Ortega, Valeria Ruiz, Valerie Saguilan, Kennedy Waltz, Raquel Rojas, Kayla Caballero, Jasmine Lopez, Sofia Luevanos, Taylor Collett, Harper Loff and Milagros Amancio contributed to this report.