Story posted April 13, 2011
It was a bad day in math class.
Student teacher Lindsey Thompson '10 was trying to teach exponential functions to a distracted group of eighth-graders in Bath Middle School. One student in particular was mouthing off.
"She's a student who hasn't been working," lamented Thompson. "She's operating from an idea that even if she fails her classes she will go to the next grade."
Thompson decided to take a moment to work one-on-one with the girl. "I said, here's the deal. If you can focus for five minutes and let me prove to you that you can do this, then you'll give me 10 minutes more of work." The student reluctantly agreed.
"At the end of five minutes," recalls Thomspon, "she was so proud she could do it, she was challenging all the other students in class to do it. And the next day she turned in a completed assignment. First thing she's done in three months."
These are the little victories that are making Thompson's intensive semester in the Bowdoin Teacher Scholars program worth it.
Half a year after graduating from Bowdoin, the mathematics major/teaching minor, has returned as one of 11 students—some alumni, some undergrads—who are working intensively toward getting their teacher certification.
Thompson doesn't pay for this extra semester of college.
Qualified alumni who have successfully completed coursework for a teaching minor can participate in the same courses and seminars as their undergraduate peers, tuition free.
The semester includes a course on adolescents in schools, a teaching seminar, faculty supervisor reviews and a teaching load of three courses in area public schools over the course of fourteen weeks. At the end, they receive Maine secondary school teacher certification.
Thompson taught English in Ecuador after graduating last year. Despite the challenge of operating in a foreign culture and language, she says it galvanized her desire to teach math in American public schools.
"It made me reconsider my teachers and what it is that schools are actually trying to teach us," she says. "What do these things mean? Not just the material. What does it mean to teach a human being?"
Often, she finds, it means trial and error: "It's hard walking into something knowing you're going to mess up," acknowledges Thompson. "It's intimidating to be a teacher at 22.
"Still, becoming a good teacher isn't just a semester-long process. Sometimes our ideas don't work. But every day you're 10 times the teacher you were before. The days I spend at school are the best part of my day—every day—even when it's a bad day."