HomeRural Teacher CorpsFeatured VideoFrom Prairie to Desert: Rural Teaching Perspectives

From Prairie to Desert: Rural Teaching Perspectives

Few colleges spend significant time addressing rural issues with future teachers.  Then again, few colleges encourage future teachers to give up parts of their summers by teaching in the Arizona desert.  The Knox College Department of Educational Studies does both, and its Navajo Professional Teaching Development Program is an exemplary effort that enourages future teachers to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries.

Below is a photo and article from the Knox College website entitled "Students Teach at Navajo School, Share 'Magical Time.'" 

Knox College students and faculty members experienced "a magical time" together when they spent two weeks teaching math, social studies, and other subjects to elementary schoolchildren from the Navajo nation.

The Knox students "hit the ground running that very first day," said Diana Beck, professor of educational studies. "They were teaching all day, every day, first through sixth grades."

Maeghan Galloway, an educational studies major at Knox who is from Oneida, Illinois, taught math and science to pupils in third through sixth grades at Navajo Concordia Preparatory Academy in Rock Point, Arizona. The school is located near the Four Corners -- where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet.

That first day, Galloway recalled, "I went in, not really knowing what to expect."

Once in the classroom, she drew upon what she'd learned at Knox College about handling a class, making classroom rules, and adapting lessons for individual students. A Knox student with children from the Navajo Concordia Preparatory Academy.

"I would not have known that without the Knox education department," said Galloway, a senior with minors in anthropology/sociology andpsychology.

"I think this experience really gave me an insight into teaching," she added. "I realized every day is a new day, and I can do this. By the end of the two weeks, I did not want to leave."

Three of the Knox students — Jordan Lanfair of Chicago, Illinois, Sergio Ulloa of Auburn, Washington, and Edel Vaca of Chicago, Illinois — didn't leave. They remained at the school to do student teaching.

The three men also are spending time with students outside the classroom. Ulloa and Vaca are coaching cross country at the nearby Rock Point High School, and Lanfair is coaching the nearby Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission School's basketball and cross country teams. Lanfair will join the elementary school's full-time staff after he finishes student teaching.

Maeghan Galloway worked hard to get to know her students well, sometimes playing basketball or jumping rope with them.

"They respected me more and opened up a bit more," she said. "At lunch every day, they were trying to teach me new Navajo words."

Mia Savard, a junior from Menifee, California, was the only Knox student on the trip who wasn't an educational studies major.

She was a neuroscience major who had taken an educational psychology course with Diana Beck, and the idea of spending two weeks at the Navajo — or Dine' — school appealed to her. Savard teamed up with another Knox student, Marcos Moreno of East Moline, Illinois, to teach second- and third-graders.

"I thought it would be nice to go and help make a change," said Savard, who has since decided to double-major in neuroscience and educational studies. "It was just a great experience, and I would recommend it to anybody who's interested. Going on this trip really did change my future and outlook on life."

The Knox group bonded tightly, taking hikes together, cooking and sharing meals, and gathering at the end of every day to talk about their classroom experiences. 

"We went in as six students who were unfamiliar with each other, and we left as a family," Galloway said. "We all just tried to help each other so much."

"This was a great group of young people — fun to work with, intelligent, thoughtful," Beck said. "It was sort of a magical time."

Knox College has long-standing ties to the Navajo nation, and Beck has spent every summer there since 1997, when she helped teach science at another Navajo school.

Knox students have traveled West for each of the past four summers, working with teachers and teaching pupils at what is now Navajo Concordia Preparatory Academy.