Each morning students in Matilda Barry’s Hillside Elementary first-grade class review vocabulary words and practice their numbers.
“Riley, what is one less than 115?” Ayo Elefontuyi, a Niskayuna High School senior who interns as a student teacher in the Hillside first-grade class, asked a student last week.
“114,” the girl answered.
“Good. Who can tell me one more than 115?” Elefontuyi said, continuing the morning practices of breaking down and building up numbers.
“116,” a student shouted.
“Who can give me 10 less than 115?” she asked. “Go ahead, Joey.”
“105,” Joey said.
As Elefontuyi and the students rolled through their morning exercises, Barry, the teacher, observed patiently from the back of the class.
“She doesn’t hang back,” Barry said of Elefontuyi. “She jumps right in.”
Elefontuyi and a handful of her classmates in the high school’s Career Exploration Internship Program are giving the teaching life a try.
Students in the internship class — about 80 in all — choose a field to intern in, find a position and go about recording over 50 hours of experience during the yearlong course.
Students find positions with engineering businesses, law firms, financial planners and much more, including other Niskayuna schools.
A lot of the student teachers come from families with educators in them — a dad who teaches in Scotia, a grandfather who worked as a superintendent in Missouri, a mother who works with special needs children — and they have long been told they would make good teachers.
And while they all said they are interested in pursuing teaching careers, many of them weren’t ready to dive into the profession just yet. But the internships, as the program is intended to do, are giving them an glimpse of what the teaching road might look like.
“I noticed that teachers, even if students aren’t in the room, they are always working,” Elefontuyi said. “They don’t get breaks.”
Justin Frankel has been working with kindergarten, first-grade and fourth-grade special education students at Craig Elementary for his internship. He said he is interested in becoming either an early childhood or special education teacher, and he plans on studying education at SUNY Geneseo next fall.
Teachers who work with special needs students are regularly among the hardest positions to fill, but Frankel also comes with family experience — his mom has worked in the field. As he works with students at Craig, he said, he has learned skills and techniques for calming and connecting with students with Down syndrome, on the autism spectrum or facing other challenges.
“When working with kids like this you need patience, you absolutely need patience,” Frankel said.
For some students, the internships take them back to familiar stomping grounds. Senior Kayla Cleary is working in the Birchwood Elementary second-grade class of her former fourth-grade teacher — and in the same classroom she once called home as a student.
Also considering work as a financial adviser, Cleary said she is realizing there is a lot more that goes into planning and organizing a class than what is evident to students. And now she gets the inside scoop on her teacher-turned-mentor’s use of song to memorize difficult concepts.
“For science we used to sing songs to help us remember things,” Cleary said.
Riley Moran, who is working in a Hillside kindergarten class, said her teaching career started long ago.
“After my sister was born, I would teach her — you know, play school,” said Moran.
“Yeah, I did that all the time,” Elefontuyi said.
But where they will be 10 years from now remains an open question.
“I’m trying to figure out if it’s really what I want to do — if I can see myself in 10 years as a teacher,” Moran said.
“That’s so hard,” Elefontuyi said. “What you will be in 10 years.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.