MARQUETTE - Justin Alworden sits in front of his fourth-grade class, helping guide them as they think of ideas for their latest project, "Kids on the Air."
The project has the students from Cherry Creek Elementary School putting together a news report from start to finish. They come up with the ideas. They write the script. They record the video.
For this edition, the students want to write segments about healthy living, spring break and March as "Diving into Reading" month.
A group of fourth graders at Cherry Creek Elementary School in Harvey ask for help from their student teacher, Justin Alworden. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Alworden administers a spelling test to his students. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Though he looks like a pro, able to manage the class of excited kids itching to present their ideas for consideration with little trouble, Alworden has only been in the class for a few weeks.
In fact, he only began teaching in January.
Alworden is one of many student teachers found in schools across the area, cutting their teeth with the supervision of veteran educators.
In this case, the veteran is Terri Marceau, a fourth-grade teacher at Cherry Creek. Alworden, a senior at Northern Michigan University who will graduate in May, has been working in her class since the beginning of the year.
Marceau said the student teaching process is invaluable in helping shape new instructors into effective and motivated teachers. In just a few short weeks, she said she's watched as that process allowed Alworden to grow as a teacher.
"When he first walked in, I could tell he was wondering how he was ever going to pull this off," Marceau said. "There was a huge transition from student to actual teacher in that first four weeks. It just takes some time to feel comfortable in this setting."
Alworden made almost the same observation, saying that it took him some time to adjust from being the student to being the teacher.
"I've been so used to sitting in a classroom ... Now that I'm in charge, I'm the teacher, it's a huge adjustment period," he said. "You're in charge. You're doing the decision making. It's a big jump. It took a few weeks, but once you start doing it over and over, it gets a little easier."
And though he may have been a little nervous those first few days, Alworden said there was no doubt in his mind that teaching was the career for him.
It's something he's known since he was a child, sitting in his own fourth-grade classroom.
"Teaching was something I wanted to do pretty much since I was in elementary, middle school," Alworden said. "I remember writing about what you want to do when you get older. I wrote down teaching."
Alworden, originally from Gladstone, said he was drawn to teaching for many reasons: the influence of good teachers from his own childhood, the chance to make a difference in someone's life, the positive feeling of being a part of the world of education.
"Whenever you're in school, you feel safe. You have that positive environment," he said. "That's something, you know you're going to go to school and you're going to have that positive feeling. I've got that now, even as a teacher. You just feel good about being here.
"I had a lot of good teachers that just made you feel that you wanted to be there," Alworden added. "You couldn't wait until the next day. I still feel that now as well."
It's a feeling Alworden hopes to pass on to his students, and watching him in front of the class, seeing how the kids interact with him, it's easy to see that he enjoys what he does.
"He's very dedicated to becoming a great teacher in his future," Marceau said. "I think Justin is doing fine work here. He's enthusiastic and he has the desire to teach. The kids feel that. He's like the Pied Piper and they're following."
For Alworden, the experience is proving priceless as he learns the ins and outs of teaching in elementary school. And though it can be a tiring job, he said he can't wait to come to school each morning.
"The easiest part is just coming here everyday. The students always put a smile on your face," he said. "You're going to make an impact in someone's life. It may not be all 25, 26 students, or however many you have, but you're going to reach somebody."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.