February 21, 2020

Aspiring Educators use D.C. as Their Classroom

Student-teaching and in-classroom experiences prepare education majors for future teaching careers. 

Senior Dan Lawrey is juggling a lot this semester. During his student-teaching semester, Lawrey, a math secondary education major from Havertown, Pa., spends more than 12 hours each week teaching precalculus and statistics to 11th and 12th graders at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C. He also attends a student-teaching seminar weekly, preparing an electronic portfolio for his job search and writing an action research paper to document how he impacts his students’ learning. 

For Lawrey, student-teaching at Benjamin Banneker is just a small part of the intensive training he’s taken on to become a high school math teacher. Lawrey decided he wanted to become a teacher thanks in part to the example of his high school A.P. Calculus teacher. 

“The way he presented the material and his excitement toward math made me want to come to class each day,” Lawrey says. “I had never felt that way about any subject up until that point.” 

Lawrey, who is a fourth-year member and captain for the University’s swimming and diving team, also knew he loved working with teenagers since he has previously worked as a youth swimming coach. 

He chose to enroll in Catholic University’s Department of Education because of the University’s location in Washington, D.C., which has granted him access to what he considers “one of the biggest epicenters for education in terms of different types of schools, communities, and diversity.” Thanks to the program, Lawrey has already gained in-classroom experiences at nearby Archbishop Carroll High School and Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md., working and learning alongside experienced teachers.

Dan Lawrey standing in classroom full of students

Later this semester, Lawrey will put his knowledge to the test as he takes full control of a classroom at Benjamin Banneker for four weeks. 

“I’m really excited for that,” he says. “I know it’s not going to be easy, but I didn’t sign up for something that’s supposed to be easy. And I’ve really been enjoying getting to know the students and the subject I’m teaching.” 

Lawrey’s experiences in student-teaching are not unique within the Department of Education where every student is expected to engage in field experiences that include classroom observations, site visits, tutoring opportunities, practicum experiences, and building up to a full-time student-teaching semester. The goal of these experiences is to help aspiring teachers practice their newly learned methods in real-world environments, while also observing the techniques of more experienced educators. 

Sarah Washington, who earned her bachelor’s in math in 2018 and her master’s in secondary math education in 2019, said she is grateful for her experiences in the education department. Now in her first year teaching honors precalculus and honors Algebra 2 at D.C.’s Gonzaga High School, Washington says she looks back on her time at CatholicU fondly because of the many opportunities she had to learn in classrooms around the city. 

“We were able to observe other teachers and really immerse ourselves in the culture to get to know what teachers do every day and how they respond in different situations,” she says. “The number of hours I spent watching other teachers teach was so valuable.” 

Washington also appreciates CatholicU’s program for its small class sizes and the individualized attention she received from her professors. She describes Department Chair Agnes Cave, in particular, as “the kind of teacher that I want to be.” 

“She’s clearly so happy doing what she does, and she knows how to do it well,” Washington says. “She’s a really wonderful role model to look up to.” 

Washington is just one of the many department alumni who has gone on to find a teaching job in the D.C. metropolitan area. According to Cave, the department boasts a 100% placement rate for graduating students into either graduate schools or careers. 

Senior education major Maria Josefina Montes is hoping to soon be included as one of those success stories. Thanks to her student-teaching experiences at schools around Washington, D.C., Montes has experienced firsthand the joys of watching her students learn. Now, as she approaches graduation, Montes has already been unofficially offered a position as a preschool teacher beginning next fall for a local Catholic school where she was a student teacher this year.

Originally from Managua, Nicaragua, Montes says she has always wanted to be a teacher. 

“My mom is a preschool teacher so ever since I was little, being around kids was what I knew and felt comfortable doing,” she says.

The most rewarding times, she says, are “those moments when it clicks,” when a student makes a connection between new things he or she has learned. 

“I love seeing the kids develop, how they change across a period of a few weeks or even a semester,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to watch them grow and see how you can affect their lives.”