Elementary teacher education alumna teaches diverse students in Alaska
As an elementary teacher education (ETE) senior from Bear, Delaware, University of Delaware alumna Aubrey Bennett expected to pursue her first teaching position in her home state or the surrounding region. But, less than a year later, Bennett surprised her family and friends by accepting a position as a first-grade teacher in Unalaska City School District in Unalaska, Alaska.
“During my second semester of student teaching, another student teacher mentioned that she was offered a job by a school district in Alaska and that many districts there needed teachers. I’ve always wanted to travel, so the idea of living and working somewhere like Alaska was exciting to me,” said Bennett. “I spent hours researching different school districts, climates, populations, salaries, and benefits. It was exhausting, but I was soon offered a job by two different districts and accepted the position at Unalaska City School District, one of the top-rated districts in the state.”
Bennett now works with a diverse population of students and families in the surrounding community, which has been a challenging, but rewarding experience.
“There is a huge English language learner (ELL) population in the school and the surrounding community. Over half of the population here is Filipino, and there are over eighteen different languages spoken in our district,” said Bennett. “I have students, for example, who speak Tagalog, Spanish, and Samoan. Since I teach first-grade, a few of my students at the beginning of the year barely knew any English.”
Though Bennett did not have much experience working with ELL populations, she received support from her school community, especially her principal, Joanna Hinderberger.
“It’s amazing how fast my students learn. I’ve also learned many strategies for working with my ELL students. For example, we do a lot of work with vocabulary using visual techniques” said Bennett. “I’ve also learned to talk differently at school. I don’t use such ‘big’ words when giving directions, and I’m more careful with my word choice. I told one of my ELL kids, ‘You rock!’ and they said, ‘I’m not a rock, Miss Bennett!’ Language is a tricky thing.”
Despite the challenges of working in a new environment, Bennett believes her experience in the ETE program prepared her well for her first teaching position, citing her early field placements and student teaching experiences.
“I am grateful that UD gave me so many opportunities to actually work in a classroom with students. Spending twelve weeks in student teaching placements was especially beneficial,” said Bennett. “I am also very grateful for Vicki Goettel, my student teaching advisor. It was helpful having professors and advisors that were actually teachers earlier in their careers.”
She encourages current ETE students to explore opportunities that may be outside of their comfort zone.
“Don’t be afraid to teach a grade level that you’ve never worked with before! During college, I mostly worked with upper elementary and middle school students. My spring student teaching placement was in a second grade room, but first grade is very different,” said Bennett. “I’m not just teaching English, science, math, and social studies. I am teaching social behavior, how to tie your shoes, how to hold a pencil, how to use a tissue, and how to pull up your zipper. It has been a wonderful learning experience.”
Bennett will continue to teach first grade in the Unalaska City School District next year and is looking forward to the adventures of the next academic year.
Article by Jessica Henderson.
Photo courtesy of Aubrey Bennett.