Jaclyn Vander Waal—Staff Writer
After having her fingerprints recorded, completing a background check, finishing online training on mandatory reporting, and filling out a bit of paperwork, Kate Lodewyk was ready to begin her first day of school as a substitute teacher.
As a senior elementary education major in Dordt University’s year-long student teaching program, Lodewyk already had spent many mornings in Sioux Center Middle School classrooms. She had been placed with two cooperating teachers for student teaching: one in seventh-grade English and another in sixth-grade math.
This past winter break, however, Lodewyk had the opportunity to be the sole teacher in each classroom she visited.
In May 2019, education professor Ryan Zonnefeld learned of a new proposal allowing upperclassmen in education programs to become certified to substitute teach in Iowa. Since then, 21 Dordt students—nearly half of Dordt’s current student teachers and three juniors—have seized the opportunity.
“It is a great way for our education majors to get experience in a classroom,” Zonnefeld said. “Teaching a full day, you get some independence.”
For many education students, this opportunity was the first time they have overseen an entire class for a whole day alone.
“Being without another adult was both humbling and a confidence boost at the same time,” Lodewyk said. “A lot of education majors worry about classroom management, and it is not always something that you can teach in a college class. You have to find that out in practice.”
Jacquelyn Geels, a senior elementary education major, appreciated how her experience substitute teaching in Pella during Dordt’s winter break provided her with both good and bad experiences that will prepare her for her own classroom someday.
“Each time I have the chance to be in front of a classroom gives me more confidence for the next time I will be in front of the class—whether it’s my class or someone else’s,” Geels said.
Two highlights for Lodewyk were seeing how different teachers set up their classrooms and observing what types of activities they had their students working on. She was especially impressed by a student-driven inquiry STEM project in fifth-grade science. Several students built 3D printing projects, some flew airplane simulations, and others examined model wind turbines to discover how they work.
After substitute teaching for roughly a month, Lodewyk feels much more comfortable in the classroom.
“Subbing is different,” Lodewyk said. “The climate of the classroom is dependent on how I react and handle situations that occur. I learned mostly by trial and error, drawing on what I have already learned through Dordt’s Education Program.”
Although she has enjoyed her time in her various substitute teaching placements in grades 5-7 math, science, social studies and English classrooms, Lodewyk is ready to come back to a classroom she is familiar with.
“Filling the shoes of a regular classroom teacher for a day is hard work,” she said. “I wanted to keep the students productive and following the plans that their teacher had outlined for me, but it was often hard to keep kids focused, especially when I do not know anyone’s names or what they have been working on all year.”
Zonnefeld said he could not speculate how this experience will impact future careers, but he does think the experience is worth it.
“What does that say to a principal? It doesn’t make you more qualified, but I do think that to some principals it may say something about your level of dedication, commitment, engagement,” he said. “It is definitely going to be noticed.”
Lodewyk is eager to list substitute teacher as a job on her resume. Geels is happy to have gotten her “foot in the door” and to have made connections in a place she plans to move to after college.
“If you can, do it,” Lodewyk said. “Each time is an opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn more about education. Subbing isn’t always easy, but it is a great opportunity to see a new side to education with every new classroom that you step into.”