From first-day jitters to life-changing lessons
by Amy Vaerewyck
The first day of school is always a little scary. For Simon Thomsen, it was terrifying.
It was his first semester of student teaching, and he was placed at the urban Montbello High School in Denver Public Schools. It’s not easy to test out your pedagogy skills for the first time, in a foreign classroom, where another teacher’s routines and systems are the law of the land.
“Some lead teachers will throw you into the fire and say ‘You’re teaching today,’” said Thomsen, who chose CU Denver for his teaching licensure and master’s degree, because he’d heard it had a good reputation for rigorous education programs
“I was terrified to start my first teaching internship, but that went away with time,” Thomsen said. With a bachelor’s degree in English, he’s earning a master’s degree in special education from CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development.
To get a teaching license, CU Denver students like Thomsen do teaching internships for two semesters in Denver-area schools. Each semester, they spend 40 days in the classroom, starting at three days a week and working their way up to a full-time 5-day week, gaining classroom authority and responsibilities as they go. The demanding schedule makes it impossible to hold another job while student teaching, Thomsen said.
“Teaching is really hard work,” said Thomsen. “It’s not something you do for money or glory.” As everyone knows, educators also deal with discipline problems, stay up late making lesson plans and share an “office” with 25 children—not glorious.
“But if you enjoy teaching, it’s the best thing ever,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen spent his second semester of student teaching in secondary English at the Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS). To earn his special education endorsement, he did a third semester-long internship, also at DCIS but in a special education classroom. His favorite students were two outspoken freshmen boys. During breaks, he played basketball with the boys, and they teased him about being out of breath on the court.
“They crack me up, a couple of hams,” he said. “Sometimes they drive me completely crazy, but they’re good kids.”
He said forming bonds with students makes them more willing to do what you ask them to do—because they trust that you have their best interest in mind.
And he lives for the moments when lessons “click” for students.
“You know the students are learning, and you can almost see the transformation happening,” he said.
While many educators work to become principals and administrators who can make changes to the educational system, Thomsen is passionate about making an impact at the classroom level.
“My goal is to be able to affect the development of the students I come into contact with every day—and change their lives,” he said.
With his master’s degree nearly complete, he has already landed a job teaching English at the Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora.
“I’ve really grown,” he said. “I’ve worked with some wonderful people, and it’s been a rewarding experience.”
And with time, his teaching terror has subsided.