Learning through teaching

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On March 14, 2022

Sarah Darknell, a senior in biological sciences from St. James, Missouri, works as a student teacher at Bourbon High School in Bourbon, Missouri, where she teaches ecology as the sole instructor in the classroom. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

In 2021, student teacher Sarah Darknell was cutting her teeth in the classroom in Newburg, Missouri, learning how to gain and keep student attention while presenting lessons in biology to high schoolers. Little did she know that only months later she would be taking the reins as a teacher in the classroom before she has even completed her Missouri S&T degree.

Due to the mass K-12 teacher shortage facing school districts throughout the state of Missouri and the country, Darknell was asked to fill a position at Bourbon High School in Bourbon, Missouri, to teach physical science, ecology and zoology. Her experiences in a STEM field have made her a highly sought-after teacher.

“I love my student teaching experience so far,” says Darknell, a senior in biological sciences from St. James, Missouri. “The current situation is perfect for me because I was itching to have my own classroom and I am the type of person to dive into something.”

Darknell says she has relished the opportunity to gain experience while making a difference in the field she will one day work in full-time.

“I honestly think the usual student teaching route would have been a bit boring to me and I really enjoy having the challenge of managing my own classroom, coming up with lesson plans, communicating with faculty and parents, and every other hat teachers wear,” says Darknell. “I imagine that spending more time student teaching with another teacher would’ve been beneficial, but I am the type to love a challenge, so I am really happy with my placement.”

Darknell, (center) works as a student teacher at Bourbon High School. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

The path to the classroom

The high school Darknell is currently at originally heard of S&T’s STEM-heavy teacher education department at a regional administrator meeting at which Dr. Beth Kania-Gosche, chair and professor of teacher education and certification at Missouri S&T, presented. After asking her for recommendations, Darknell jumped to Kania-Gosche’s mind.

“Sarah’s a strong student who is from this area, so we asked her if she was interested and she was willing to face this challenge,” Kania-Gosche says. “This is a great opportunity for her to potentially earn a permanent job while building experience. Of course, it isn’t ideal that schools are facing this teacher shortage, but right now schools just can’t afford to have two STEM-knowledgeable adults in the same classroom.”

Darknell says she was expecting to have a slower build-up to her career and thought biology would be the focus of her teaching, but this change is not a bad one.

“I really like teaching ecology and physical science courses, and I have a very supportive cooperating teacher, Cassandra Haar, who is another science teacher in the high school,” says Darknell. “She helps me with curriculum and answers any questions I have about students, the school and how to do things that have not been specifically covered in college. The principal, Matt Peregoy, is also a big help to me and has been very supportive. Really, Bourbon and its people have been super supportive and willing to help you if you just ask.”

Teaching is one option

Darknell has been active outside of the classroom at S&T as well, conducting student research with biological sciences faculty. In fact, she initially came to the university as a pre-med student, but changed after deciding she wanted to join the workforce sooner.

“I didn’t always consider teaching as a career,” says Darknell. “I remember thinking when I was in high school that I wouldn’t ever want to be a teacher. But I have found so far that teaching and the education field in general is all about the joy you get from doing the job and impacting so many young people’s lives.”

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