Sara Schneider, a student teacher currently at Sunset Elementary, is finishing up the last part of her coursework at Chadron State College in preparation for her May graduation. She spent the past six weeks at Sunset working with about 250 students a day. She next will move on to Craig Middle School.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Sara Schneider, a student teacher currently at Sunset Elementary, is finishing up the last part of her coursework at Chadron State College in preparation for her May graduation. She spent the past six weeks at Sunset working with about 250 students a day. She next will move on to Craig Middle School.

Jumping hurdles

Sunset Elementary student teacher looking to stay in Moffat County after graduation

— Sara Schneider, Chadron State College student, has enrolled in the classes, attended the lectures and taken the exams.

But, the real test began six weeks ago when she started student teaching at Sunset Elementary School.

"I learned more in my first day than a semester in college," she said.

Schneider teaches physical education to kindergarten through fourth-grade students. She has up to 13 classes a day.

Her day doesn't end when students go home. She has lesson plans to write and reports of her students' progress to compile.

Schneider's after-hours work is a necessary step in obtaining her bachelor's degree in science and a certification to teach health and physical education to students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

And all for no pay.

It's a part of the experience, she said - an experience that has confirmed her love of teaching.

"I don't think a lot of it is as hard as they made it out to be," she said. "It is so fun. I feel like I'm a fourth-grader all over again.

"And that's great. I love coming here every day."

Teaching physical education is a marriage of Schneider's two passions: children and sports.

Originally, she wanted to become a physical therapist.

Playing high school and college sports under coaches - good and bad - changed her course, she said. Especially the good coaches who pushed her to perform her best.

She wanted to have the same impact on others as they had on her. So, she threw her hat into the ring, taking up courses with the Chadron State education program.

Her classes covered various topics, including educational psychology and physical activities for young children.

The culmination: An eight-week student teaching program at Sunset Elementary, immediately followed by another of the same duration at Craig Middle School.

Schneider shares classroom duties with her supervising teacher, Susan Nicholson, including recess duty and lesson planning.

She hopes her 16-week apprenticeship will help her land her a teaching job in Northwest Colorado. Although she's a native of Baggs, Wyo., she wants to stay in Moffat County.

"I would love to stay here," she said. "I want to be in this district."

The course leading to a full-time teaching position is littered with obstacles - obstacles of which Schneider is aware.

First, there are the programs.

"P.E. : arts, the music (classes) - they're the first to get cut in every school out there," she said, adding that standardized tests make core curriculum teachers more highly sought after.

A lack of open positions comes next.

She's giving Moffat County two years.

"If a job doesn't open, I'll have to go elsewhere," she said.

Helping overcome negative images about physical education classes is the third hurdle she must jump if she wants to teach long term.

In the past, physical education classes have focused primarily on group sports - activities not all students perform well in, she said.

"I think it puts a negative label on physical activity and sports."

Instead, Schneider intends to teach her students the basics of coordination and movement.

"They could become comfortable with (those concepts) and then they could become effective with a variety of activities," she said.

But there, again, is another hurdle: Motivation.

It's one area of teaching where she wants help.

"I want to inspire them but I think sometimes it takes more than just one person," Schneider said. "It takes families to inspire, families to get involved."

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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