Louise Wilson Louise Wilson

Ready for the Real Classroom

Professor Louise Wilson gets teachers-in-training out of their comfort zones and into real-world experiences.

BEGIN . BELONG . BECOME

When Louise Wilson started her career as a teacher, she quickly found that her old frame of reference for being in front of a class was useless. Her first job, in Chicago, was teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students. Soon she discovered how little she knew of their world and what it would really take for learning to begin.

That significant and life-changing experience has never left Wilson, now professor and chair of the Education Department at Bethel University, where she nurtures the department’s 350-plus education students. It’s become her mantra that teachers-in-training need their worlds shaken up—earlier rather than later.

“One of the important things we do is help break students out of whatever traditional mindset they have of what teaching is like,” she says. “We provide exposure to schools and teaching methods outside their personal comfort zones.”

Even as sophomores, Bethel education majors are sent out to observe classrooms across the Twin Cities, often in urban schools. Sometimes it’s enough to prompt a change of major. But for those who stick with it, there’s no better place to eventually practice for success.

In a rare arrangement, 8 to 10 Bethel seniors have begun their hands-on-training a whole semester early—shadowing teachers at North End Elementary in St. Paul. A few stay to student teach—much more comfortably—in an already-familiar school.

Taking a page from the medical field, more Bethel student teachers will enter a year-long “residency" at one of several public schools. This innovative new program sponsored by the Bush Foundation, pairs up students full time with trained teacher mentors—learning from and teaching alongside them for an entire year.

"We believe this whole immersion idea, being in the classroom full-time, will make a world of difference,” says Wilson.

“Surely one of the rewards of teaching—and the reason many people go into it—is to make a difference,” she concludes. “It’s our job at Bethel to provide novice teachers with the guidance and training they need to achieve that goal.”