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  May 1, 2000

Neag School Reaching Out to Tomorrow's Teachers

With a teacher shortage looming, the Neag School of Education is always looking for new ways to inspire bright students to become the educators of tomorrow.

In an effort to attract students to a career in education, Cheryl Spaulding, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction, and several of her teacher education students are reaching out to middle school students. They have started an after-school program - called the Future Teachers Club - in East Hartford Middle School and Glastonbury's Gideon Welles School. It is funded through a $30,000 grant from the state.

Why target students at such an early age? Spaulding believes that waiting until high school may be too late to attract a diverse group of people into the teaching profession.

"We believe a lot of career decisions are decided before students reach high school," she says. "By targeting middle school students, we get them thinking about what they need to achieve in high school so they'll be prepared for the requirements of college."

In the Future Teachers Club, about three dozen students who think they might like to command a classroom one day meet every other week with UConn student teachers to learn the

a-b-c's of running a classroom. They learn about using proper body language, how to take control of a classroom and how to earn the respect of their students.

Club activities include: presentations by outside speakers, discussion groups, practice teaching exercises, shadowing teachers and field trips.

Last month, one of those trips brought them to UConn. Small groups of students sat down with several Neag School of Education faculty members and Richard Schwab, dean of education, to talk about the club and about what it takes to become a teacher and a student at UConn.

Schwab, who began his career as a middle school teacher, turned the tables on his group right from the start and peppered them with questions. What are the qualities of a good teacher, he asked. What has the club taught them about being a teacher? The students, some more eager than others to open up, answered his questions and commented on their personal experiences with teachers - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Schwab seized the opportunity to hammer home the importance of having good teachers: "Teaching is the best job in Connecticut," he told them. "There is no greater influence in your life than your parents and your teachers."

As he sent the students off for a campus tour and lunch at Rome Commons dining hall, he told them he hoped to see them back in his office in five or six years.

That kind of interaction and motivation is exactly what Spaulding and her student teachers had in mind when they created the program.

"We are surprised by the large number of students who originally showed interest in the club and have been active all year long," she says. "We are convinced that some of the youngsters will end up in Connecticut's classrooms."

Janice Palmer