QUINCY — With the first semester nearly over, Clair Clark and Justin Pearson say they’re both moving to Quincy Junior High School.
He’s a new sixth-grader at QJHS. She’s a sixth-grade earth science teacher also new to QJHS — and to teaching.
“It’s quite fun. We are both new. We’re both trying to figure out how school works, how pacing works,” Justin said.
“It’s their new school and it’s kids they’ve never had a class with before,” Clark said. “It’s a huge transition for them and for me, something that I’ve bonded with my kids. They know it’s my first year. We’re learning everything together.
Clark is one of 17 competency-based educators hired for the 2022-23 year at Quincy Public Schools. A state waiver allows QPS to hire teachers with a bachelor’s degree in any subject and a substitute teacher’s license who earn a degree in education.
“It actually allows us to hire candidates who are working on their Professional Educator License, which is a win for QPS but also a win for our students,” said Lisa Otten, QPS Director of People. “It gives us candidates who bring content knowledge to the classroom from previous careers.”
Andrea Heiden worked “here and there”, but the Quincy native always wanted to do more after graduating from college in 2020.
After seeing a flyer about the QPS competency-based curriculum, “this might be a good place to start,” said Heiden, hired this school year to teach seventh-grade English at QJHS. “My initial aspiration was to teach political science at the college level, which I hope to do one day. I’m just taking a longer route to get there than I originally planned, which worked out for the best for me.
Much of what she learned as a political science major feeds into her classroom with lessons about how people think and interact with the world around them and how what they read translates. integrated into the larger context of their lives.
“I didn’t have any education classes, but I’m getting all of this educational content now in my master’s classes,” Heiden said. “I loved being able to learn about education while doing it day to day. It was very helpful in many ways.
Debating whether to teach middle school or high school, she settled on QJHS.
“Junior high was such a formative time in my life, such an interesting school experience for me that I decided junior high education was probably best for me,” she said. “I teach dance to students of the same age, so the transition was certainly easy. I know how these kids think.
The same goes for Clark, who talked to his third-hour students, including Justin, through a test review one day this week, stopping to explain a concept again and drawing an accompanying picture on the White board.
“She’s one of my favorite teachers,” Justin said. “I didn’t really like science until this year. She taught me some tips like how to study, how to be a better listener, just a better student in general.
Clark and her husband earned a bachelor’s degree, his in biology, from Bradley University in 2020, then returned home to Quincy with COVID at its peak. He started working on a master’s degree and she got a job at the Quincy Medical Group “as a sort of fallback plan” until her mother-in-law mentioned the school district’s competency-based program.
Since 2018, QPS has hired 48 competency-based teachers, and probably almost half have already obtained a teaching license, which usually takes less than two years to work with any college or university or QPS University partners Quincy, Culver-Stockton College and Grand Canyon University.
“It allows people interested in teaching to start teaching as soon as they can,” Otten said.
The idea of teaching intrigued Clark, who had once hoped to double major in biology and education, and after training new recruits in her previous job, which is similar to teaching, she thought she could do it.
“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done, but I could complain all day and still love it. It’s so rewarding,” Clark said. “I come home and tell my husband how much I love these children.”
Outside of the classroom, Clark attends his students’ choir concerts, band concerts, and games.
“They want to see me and say hello,” she said. “I know they love me. I love them. I don’t know if I’m doing a great job teaching them science, but I love them.
There are a lot of challenges, especially with topics she hasn’t heard since sixth grade and without knowing the classroom management techniques taught to education majors, but Clark is learning through the support. of her colleagues, administrators and teacher-mentor Heather Maston.
“When I think back to my first year of teaching and how unprepared I felt – and I had done a full year of teaching students before that and a traditional curriculum at Illinois State – I can’t imagine how new CBE teachers feel,” Maston said. . “I do my best to almost explain things too much. I don’t want to assume she knows things when she doesn’t have that background.
Clark said she sought help from Maston every day or every other day during the first trimester. “She had to walk me through everything I did day to day,” Clark said. “Now I’m at the point where I can almost do things on my own.”
But Clark has already figured out what is most important in teaching.
“The first thing is to build relationships with the children. Science education comes second. She understood that. It almost has to come naturally,” Maston said.
“Anyone with a passion for children could do this job. It doesn’t matter if you care about the content you teach. It’s just important if you can build a relationship and support a child,” Clark said. “All I care about is that they can come to my class and know they have someone supporting them.”