Friday, May 12, 2017

By Andy Goodell

Middle school can be an important turning point for students. Samantha Kaplan wants to help guide them toward enjoying learning as much as she did as a student.

Kaplan, of Naperville, Illinois, is an elementary education and psychology double-major at the University of Iowa who spoke at the Spring 2017 Teacher Education Convocation. Also on her plate are endorsements for middle school science and math, as well as K-8 social studies. She says it’s particularly important to reach middle school students because they’re at a critical stage in their school experience.

“They’re at that age where they’re deciding whether or not they like school and whether or not they love learning,” says Kaplan. “If you can get to kids at that age and say, ‘This is going to be something that’s going to carry you forward,’ I think that’s awesome.”

Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Kaplan says she had many inspirational and impactful teachers. These teachers spurred her interest in an education career. She also credits a number of UI College of Education faculty with strengthening her resolve to teach.

“Their love of education and the importance of education is something that I felt and that encouraged me as I kept going,” says Kaplan.

During her collegiate career, Kaplan has done practicum teaching at numerous area schools. These include Horace Mann, Robert Lucas, Irving Weber, and Grant Wood elementary schools. She also student taught at Solon and Oak Ridge middle schools. She greatly appreciates being able to have these real-world learning opportunities, especially since she was able to start a practicum during her first semester at the UI College of Education. These experiences exposed her to many different teaching subjects and styles. She also completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Education.

“I was looking for that when I came to college,” says Kaplan. “I had been thinking about it since middle school. Actually, being in the classroom and helping out with the teacher, assisting kids one-on-one, it just gives you a whole new sense of what education is about.”

Now that she is graduating, Kaplan says she hopes to teach middle school in the Iowa City area. In the long term, Kaplan says she may find herself working for the U.S. Department of Education or at a museum. Wherever her career takes her, Kaplan knows she wants to help children learn.

For Kaplan, education is about forming meaningful relationships with her students, something she was able to gain from her practicum and student teaching experiences through the UI College of Education. No less important is guiding students in their learning so they can understand all subjects effectively. Sometimes this happens over time, explains Kaplan. Other times, it’s like a light switch.

“I love seeing the light come on,” says Kaplan.