The Education Department at Western emphasizes the importance of hands-on learning when considering what it takes to be a full-time teachers. Because of this, every student in the education program at Western is afforded the opportunity to student teach for an entire school year. Although residency programs at Western allow students to complete their residency period anywhere in the world, some students choose to stay in the Gunnison Valley and begin their teaching experience locally.
Scott Davis, a student teacher at Gunnison Elementary School expressed how student-teaching in Gunnison has impacted him as a future educator. Davis began his teaching experience as a paraeducator at Gunnison Elementary School last year. He fell in love with the position and enrolled at Western to complete his coursework and to become a licensed teacher. He explained that teaching in a rural environment allowed him to experience unique opportunities he might not have been able to partake in elsewhere.
“I have been invited to be part of Wraparound (a family counseling service) team, and I have been able to participate in the ski at school program where students get to go skiing once a week in January and February. Also, I have definitely developed some close relationships with my coworkers. My mentor is awesome and like a friend to me. My special education team and teachers I work with have all been incredibly supportive and willing to go out of their way to help me and I don’t know if you would find that in bigger city environment.”
Davis expressed the desire to stay local after completing his degree at Western:
“I don’t want to move too far away. I could see myself moving somewhere a bit bigger, like Montrose, but right now, for what I want in life, I want to stick around this part of CO. I love the small town, slower pace lifestyle.”
Graduate student Taylor Martin is also student teaching locally. She is a freshman geography instructor at Gunnison High School. Martin explained that she chose to stay in Gunnison for a variety of reasons, but the small town feel of the place and her close relationship with the community is what drew her back most.
“I was initially planning on teaching in a city environment, but I had never lived in a small town before and the small-town vibes of Gunnison were really welcoming. I was considering moving to a city to teach full-time after this year, but this experience has encouraged me to stay rural.”
Martin shared her thoughts on how this position has affected her and explained how the culture of Gunnison has influenced her teaching.
“Gunnison is a very tight-knit community and it’s awesome that all the kids know each other. It challenges me to know the kind of background they’re coming from and how I can best support them as students. I’ve definitely had moments during the course of this past semester that reminded me, ‘This is why I’m here. I know this is what I want to do for a career.’”
Western prides itself on developing teachers who are not only competent and efficacious, but also student and community oriented. Through their work in Gunnison’s elementary, middle, and high schools, Western’s local student-teachers are fostering their students’ growth and development while also evolving their own skills as teachers and leaders, which they will carry with them beyond their residency experience here in the Gunnison Valley.