How to Build a Teacher
Lindsey Razafsky recalls making the decision to be an elementary teacher while working as a counselor at a youth camp. She remembers deciding on attending Emporia State University, changing her mind about following friends to Kansas State, and most of all she touts how ESU greatly prepared her for her chosen profession.
In essence, if you looked up how to build a teacher in a dictionary, you should find a description of Razafsky's life and the Emporia State experience.
Razafsky attended the Jewish Community Center's Barney Goodman camp as a child and then as a junior at Blue Valley High School, she worked as a junior and senior counselor, paraprofessional, intern, and office manager.
"I loved planning out and leading each week's activities," says Razafsky. "Above all, I loved working with the kids. It came very naturally to me. Over the years, I had nearly four times the required hours needed to enter Emporia State's Block program for student teaching."
Her decision to enroll at Emporia State University was settled with one tour of the campus.
"I was more than impressed and went home that day with an ESU sweatshirt and my mind made up. It was that simple. How could I walk away from a school known for its teacher education program? I knew I'd keep in contact with my friends, but this was my future and my priority."
Once in the Emporia State University fold, the Teachers College did what it does best ... mold. Teaching the teachers.
"Emporia State is a small school with a big heart," explains Razafsky. "It's a place where class sizes are small and personal. You go through the program and know most of the people because they are in all of your classes. Professors are willing to get involved and help students reach their full potential. They want to see students succeed.
"As a Hornet, you feel like you're part of something special. I wouldn't trade that for anything."
Razafsky notes the many opportunities for involvement offered at Emporia State, as well as the many avenues for events and entertainment. On the education side, she points out Dr. Matt Seimears as an illustration of the outstanding one-to-one assistance ESU Faculty are known for.
In turn, Dr. Seimears, professor in Early Childhood and Elementary Teacher Education, reflects on the pupil as teaching him as he taught her.
"I would not be the faculty member I am today in working with undergraduates and research at Emporia State University if it wasn't for Lindsey Razafsky," he says.
Dr. Seimears recalls the day Razafsky approached him about her hopes of going to New York for her master's degree and then possibly finding a teaching position in NYC. He immediately directed her to undergraduate student research. Undergraduate research is something ESU promotes in all its programs, Dr. Seimears thanks Razafsky for shining light on what could be done.
"Lindsey not only helped me grow as a faculty member, she helped kick start my experiences with working with undergraduate students and their research. Lindsey was my first undergraduate student to work with in undergraduate research and it really opened my eyes to the importance of undergraduate research at the university level."
Razafsky did a study on the (Science and Math Education Center (SMEC) in Liberal Arts and Sciences and was accepted to present her findings at The University of Michigan in May 2007. Seimears and Razafsky co-presented together and it was an immediate success. Other presentations of her research included the Hydrological sciences and stream analysis in Texas that she gave at the 2008 NSTA Boston Conference, Soil data analysis; Mechling and Oliver's checklist of science experiences for teachers in 2008; Mechling and Oliver's checklist for building administrators understanding of science content at the elementary levels, and Teacher analysis of standards based teaching of science.
She also presented at ESU's annual Undergraduate Research Day and the school's Research and Creativity Day. Razafsky and Dr. Seimears co-published two articles from her independent research at the university level.
Once she was ready to apply for graduate school, her dream of going to NYC was close to becoming a reality. Razafsky received plenty of help with her application form Emporia State. Dr. Seimears was one of Razafsky's references and he picked up from his conversation that, “her coming out of the Emporia State program in education was one reason she was being considered.”
"I have absolutely no doubt that my experiences while at Emporia State are the reason I was accepted," says Razasky, who was accepted by NYU, but chose the Teachers College at Columbia for her graduate degree.
"In 2005, Emporia's PDS program was nationally recognized by a former president of Columbia University's Teachers College," points out Razafsky. "(ESU) was considered to be the ‘Camelot’ of teacher preparation programs. It's unmistakable why this would be true. Most institutions require only one semester of student teaching. During that semester students take classes, observe their cooperating teacher, transition to take over classroom responsibilities, and teach full-time. In comparison, I spent two semesters in the classroom.”
"It is required that all ESU elementary education students spend one semester at the primary level (K-2) and one semester in intermediate (3-6) at a Title 1 school. Through the Emporia/Olathe partnership, I had the opportunity to go through the Olathe new teacher preparation program that is mandatory of all new teachers. Our cohort went to all of the new teacher trainings the district provides throughout the year. Additionally, by the time I graduated, I had actually completed not one but two student teaching experiences. I spent 3-4 weeks full-time teaching during my first semester and 6-8 weeks during the second semester."
During a year of student teaching, Razafsky had the opportunity to participate in the first day of school, the Back-to-School-Night, parent teacher conferences, weekly staff meetings, data reviews, state assessments and more.
The intense program Emporia State University puts its future teachers through is the best for making sure students know what's below the surface, something students of other teacher education programs fail to witness and experience.
"I graduated from ESU with a very strong foundation in my profession," says Razafsky.
Her foundation was so strong by the time she graduated and entered Columbia, many could not believe she did not have at least a year of teaching under her belt.
"At Columbia, some of my classmates were shocked to discover that I only had student teaching experience. I was confident in myself as a teacher and had a plethora of experiences to pull from. I was sitting in class alongside teachers that had these phenomenal backgrounds working in urban or title schools, participating in the Peace Corp, working across the states or overseas, etc., as well as other new or beginning teachers. I was able to contribute to group work and my experience was valued by my peers. It was an incredible feeling. Had I not had the classroom exposure Emporia provided for me, things would have been quite different."
Razaskfy completed the graduate program at Columbia in one year, while also handling her master's project placement at the Promise Academy 2, a well-known charter school in Harlem. Working in a first-grade classroom, she was able to research struggling readers and come up with an intervention program.
"I applied what I learned at ESU and from my student teaching experience to implement guided reading within the classroom."
Razafsky returned to Kansas and applied in Shawnee Mission at a Title 1 school. "After accepting the position," she says, "I was informed that one of the main reasons my application was considered was due to my Title 1 experience while student teaching. During my first year of teaching, I never felt like a "new" teacher. I already had an entire year of experience working in a classroom. I was comfortable from the very beginning. Again, I contribute this to the strong foundation Emporia offered me. I also had the opportunity to work with an amazing, supportive staff. Words cannot express what a wonderful feeling that is!"
Another wonderful feeling and favorite memory recalls Razafsky, "was when I won the Undergraduate Research Award in 2007 for my research on the ESU Science and Math Education Center. At the awards banquet, I was sitting with my parents at dinner. I remember looking over at them, seeing their smiles, and knowing just how proud of me they were."
Now in her fourth year as a full-time teacher, Razafsky's parents have so much more to be proud of, and she has made such a huge impact on local education, to have some acclaim her as highly ranked among her peers.
A shining example of how to build a teacher and what Emporia State University, which has been changing lives since 1863, can accomplish.