Activating the Teaching Gene
Interview by: Sarah Gray
With a strong teaching gene that runs through her family and years of volleyball under her belt, it’s no surprise that student teacher Savanna Stutts is on a mission to make math classes more active for students. Audio elements, hands-on instruction, group work—none of it is off limits when it comes to reaching every student. While studying for her bachelor’s (and playing volleyball) at LeTourneau University, Savanna also student taught eighth-grade math at Spring Hill Junior High. After graduation, Savanna plans to complete her master’s while also taking on assistant volleyball coach duties, soaking in as much knowledge as possible.
What made you want to become a teacher and a coach?
It seems to run in my family. I have a grandfather who was an educator for 35 years, and he retired as a principal in Dallas ISD. I also have a great uncle who was an educator for 30-plus years, and he retired as an athletic director. I have a cousin who’s a high school teacher and basketball coach. My mom was also a teacher for about five years, and she has always had a heart for children. I feel that she has passed that love for children on to me.
What are some of your goals for your teaching and coaching career?
Some goals include obtaining my master’s degree through LeTourneau University, where I am the assistant volleyball coach. Another goal of mine is to make math fun and to continue looking for new ways to reach every student. I plan to teach to each student’s unique learning style. Every student is different, so it is important to really get to know the students in your classes. I do this through communicating with my students about their hobbies as well as school-related information. When teaching, I work on incorporating hands-on, visual, and auditory activities. I really want to make sure that everyone understands each lesson before I move on. Ultimately, my goal is to learn as much as possible for both teaching and coaching.
Could you talk a little about your research project?
I’m still in the beginning process, but I will be collecting data regarding the effect of movement in an eighth-grade regular math class. My project pertains to whether a more active approach to math can improve student learning. I’m working on a trial that includes making math more active and group focused, and then I will collect data from the first semester and compare it to data from the second semester. The data includes test scores and semester grades, which will help me determine how an active approach affects student comprehension.
Throughout my time as an education student, I thought that every student teacher had to complete a research project similar to the one that my classmates and I are working on. I’ve discovered that some universities don’t require student teachers to work on a research project and test a theory. LeTourneau University’s education program is serious about preparing student teachers for their future careers. Since LeTourneau is a smaller university, the professors are able to truly get to know their students and help them in any way possible. Our professors have taught and shown us the best methods for teaching to every student, differentiating instruction, and utilizing the T-TESS document when planning lessons. Plus, the research project instills the idea of always looking for new ways to improve on what you’re teaching and how to truly reach every student. As teachers, we must know how to adapt our lessons to each class because one group of students will not learn the same way as the next.
As a student teacher, what does a typical day look like for you?
It begins with me arriving to school early and preparing any materials that I will need that day. Before I began student teaching, I did not realize how much work goes into the planning and preparation process. Occasionally, students will come in for tutoring. Next, I begin teaching the lesson for that day. After the morning classes, I have a planning period that I utilize.
My mentor teacher and I plan what the next days and weeks will look like so that we can start getting materials ready and notifying students about assignments and tests. We also work with our partner teacher when planning our lessons. I love the community that these teachers have implemented here at Spring Hill Junior High, especially my mentor teacher, Holly Ford, who has 35 years of experience and is always sharing her experiences and knowledge with me. Next, we have an activity class that is mainly used for tutoring. The rest of the day includes some more teaching and reflecting on how the lessons went that day.
What do you think new teachers bring to the education field that is beneficial for students and veteran colleagues?
New teachers bring energy, new ideas, and open minds. We’re one of the first groups to start using the T-TESS rubric, and it has shaped the way we are teaching. We’re trying new things and focusing on student-led instruction. Plus, we are excited to implement our research ideas. Personally, I am excited to see how an active teaching approach affects student comprehension in my eighth-grade math classes. I like to think of it as “getting students out of their seats” because they sit for eight hours a day. Overall, new teachers are excited to learn from and collaborate with veteran teachers.
What difference do you hope to make in the education field?
I hope to make math more enjoyable because math does not always excite students. Plus, I want to make math a more active class, where students are asked to work together and try new things. I hope to create an environment that promotes fun and learning.
What do you want experienced teachers to know about you and other future teachers who will be entering the field soon?
My classmates and I hope that experienced teachers know that we are excited and willing to learn from them. We want them to know that we hope to borrow some of their ideas and add to them. We strive to make things our own, but we would not be able to do so without the wisdom that experienced teachers impart upon us. While student teaching, we were able to see how community and support from experienced teachers can help us grow and be successful. Wherever we end up teaching, we hope to join a close-knit community of experienced teachers.
Yes, cooperation and collaboration are big things.
Cooperation and collaboration are extremely important for both teachers and students. When students enter the work force, they will almost certainly be asked to work with others. Teachers work together as partners or as an entire grade to plan lessons, create or obtain materials, or brainstorm new ideas. Learning how to effectively work with others is an important life skill, so why not start now?