No vacancy: teaching program left without a room

Student teachers at South Dakota State are required to sit through a two-week boot camp program at the beginning of each semester. 

This boot camp is meant to prepare students before they start student-teaching in a classroom. But these students don’t even get a classroom for themselves.

Students and faculty shifted between different rooms and facilities around Brookings during the program earlier this semester because a university-controlled room was not made available. This situation left students wondering if SDSU valued its students and the program.

Noelle Vainikka, a student teacher in Arlington, didn’t understand why students were required to take a course when there was no physical space set aside for them, which in itself is somewhat inefficient, she said.

“It just seems like it [the teaching, learning and planning program] is not an important enough program at the university. I just get that feeling,” Vainikka said.

Jennifer Weber, an instructor in the boot camp program since 2004, said there’s never been consistency in reserving a room for the program.

The course has moved to different sites across campus from the Jerome J. Lohr (SDSU Foundation) building, Hansen Hall, Wecota and Wenona halls, the Student Union and the Brookings Public Library. The program had to pay for space reserved in The Union this year.

With between 35 and 40 students in the two-week program, there isn’t a space controlled by SDSU that would fit their needs and the university’s policy, according to Kay Trooien, senior secretary in the Registrar’s office.

Trooien tries to maximize the use of each room controlled by the university every semester. Having classes run in those rooms for an hour each day for an entire semester is more efficient than reserving the same room for two weeks to accommodate a class that runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Trooien’s job is to schedule more than 2,000 courses in the 95 rooms controlled by the university. This task takes about four months to work out details and arrange the room schedules for a semester.

Provost Laurie Nichols said although the current situation the boot camp program has to work with in reserving rooms is not ideal, it is the “most workable solution right now.”

“I’m sorry they [the students] don’t feel valued, but if they thought about the use of space, they would understand that we can’t keep a classroom open for them all semester so that they can meet for two weeks,” Nichols said. “That would be really bad use of space.”

Although Weber understands the university “has its hands tied” with trying to maximize its space and efficiency, she is frustrated with not having consistency in scheduling the program. Because students and faculty in the program “value this experience so much, we’d like to see the university as a whole value [this experience] as well,” she said.

Seeing this value come to action would be in providing a room for the program or waiving fees in reserving rooms in The Union, Weber said.

“One big thing I’d like to suggest is that we treat this like a professional program,” Weber said. “People leave here with certification they’re prepared to be a professional. I’d like to see society valuing the professionals and see everybody value their work—from legislators … to the university and people in that setting as well.”

Allison Ross, a student teacher at Flandreau High School, thought not having a specific room reserved for the entirety of the program was ridiculous.

Ross commuted from Flandreau to attend the class. Since this was the only time she would be on campus this semester, she didn’t have a commuter parking pass and had to either park in The Union pay lot and pay $8 to $10 a day or park off campus. Ross didn’t think either option was fair for her situation

She also wondered where her six credits-worth of payment was going if it wasn’t going toward reserving a room.

Eighty percent of the fees paid by the students in the program go toward faculty salaries and a stipend to cooperating teachers at the schools the students teach at, Nichols said. Students don’t pay more or less for the cost of reserving rooms.

Teaching, Learning and Leadership Department Head Andrew Stremmel said students “need to understand their fees pay for instruction—facilities that go beyond the classroom.”

“Ideally, we have a location that meets everyone’s needs, but that’s out of our control,” Stremmel said. “We try to provide an experience that will be good for everyone.”

One way Stremmel hopes to remedy the program is through yearlong residencies.

Student teachers in the secondary education program will be out in the field earlier and won’t have to be in the classroom everyday, which allows them to take methods courses during this time.

In this situation the school becomes the classroom, Stremmel said. Such a plan would allow for immediate application of what student teachers learn during their residencies.

The yearlong residency for a student in the secondary education program is set to take effect in 2018. The department is conducting pilot programs with small groups of English Education students currently, which will help the department work through any kinks.

In the meantime, boot camp is what most students have to work with. Vainikka suggested restructuring the program with online classes or with hybrid classes.

“Something has to be adjusted,” Vainikka said.

Jill Thorngren, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, said the college is committed to finding classrooms that are comfortable and conducive to learning. She said she is open to talking to students about the program.

“Our students are our greatest asset and why we exist. Our teacher education students are fulfilling such an important need in our state, so by no means do we want them to feel devalued,” she said. “We appreciate them being flexible because we know it’s hard to not have the dedicated space and it’s hard for the faculty, too, as they move around.”