by Claire Miller
College of Education Professor Jeff Ashby took ropes and created two large circles on the floor, one inside of the other.
He designated the innermost section the “comfort zone,” the middle section the “challenge zone” and the area outside the two circles “chaos.”
From there, he asked participants in the college’s Academy for Future Teachers (AFT) program to consider a number of different scenarios, from riding on an airplane during a storm to giving a speech in front of a crowd. The students had to move into the corresponding section based on whether these situations were comfortable, challenging or chaotic for them.
Though it may look like a simple exercise, it was one of many activities designed to help students think about their strengths and weaknesses and to hone their skills as future educators.
“You’ve got to understand your own comfort zone, your challenge range and what puts you into chaos, both for yourself and for the students you might be teaching in the future,” Ashby explained. “There’s no growth or learning in chaos or in someone’s comfort zone – people learn when they are challenged.”
AFT, which began at Georgia State in 2004, brings rising high school juniors and seniors to campus for three weeks each summer to discuss pedagogy, communication styles and professional development, as well as learn ways to teach math and science for elementary, middle and high school students.
About 60 students from the metro-Atlanta area participate in a number of hands-on experiences, from field trips to local museums to teaching children from the After-School All-Stars Atlanta program and the COE’s Capitol Hill Child Enrichment Center.
“The innovation we’ve had since AFT started, the students we’ve brought in and the curriculum we’ve enhanced each year have made this a great program,” said Laurie Forstner, AFT program coordinator.
The program can be an eye-opening experience for its participants and team leaders like Darius Wimby, who has been an AFT team leader for three years and now wants to become an English teacher.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change careers, but this is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had,” said Wimby, who graduated from Georgia State in 2010 with a journalism degree. “I’d recommend anyone who isn’t sure if they want to be a teacher to be a team leader and participate in AFT. You get to see what it’s like to be a part of a student’s life.”
And students who come back for a second year can attest to the impact the program has on their ideas about teaching and learning.
“We were exposed to a lot of teaching concepts last year,” said Wade’ Ruff, a rising senior and second-year AFT participant. “I want to further explore what it means to be a good teacher and all the different aspects of that.”
For more information about AFT, visit http://education.gsu.edu/AFT.