Education grad students gain real world classroom experience

The Thomas Reynolds Center for Special Education & After-School Programs. Often referred to as the TRC or the Center, it offers a unique opportunity for students at the graduate level of education that no other college offers.
For the 2015 – 2016 school year, Samantha Schaefer and Molly Howe are two of the graduate assistants working at the Center’s after-school program. The Center started in 2003 as a way to give Daemen graduate students an opportunity to gain additional hands-on experience working with students with special needs their own classroom setting. This opportunity allows graduate students enrolled in the program an opportunity to work with students in an academic setting since there is not a student teaching requirement for their program. Lisa Waterrose, the Director at the Center, says that being a graduate assistant sets them apart from other candidates because of the experience they had.

Molly Howe displays students' math problems on the board. Photo: Andrea O'Shea
Molly Howe displays students’ math problems on the board. Photo: Andrea O’Shea

In this special program, the graduate assistants  plan their Common Core standards-based lessons from 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. and then student participants arrive at 3:30 p.m. for the two hour after-school program. The student participants are third and fourth grade students from Amherst Central School District.  These students receive homework help during the first hour, and during the second hour the students receive academic instruction in math and ELA.

The after-school program runs Monday through Thursday, and on Fridays the graduate assistants attend professional development trainings in math, ELA, and Diverse Learners for a 3 hour period. In addition, the graduate assistants receiving training in technology, behavior management, and then are assisted in developing a portfolio.  They also work with Ashley Breth in Career Services to improve their interview skills.  Attending professional development trainings every other week is extremely beneficial as opposed to 3 or 4 times a year that most districts offer.

 Samantha Schaefer getting ready to teach some fractions, using pizza as a yummy example. Photo: Andrea O'Shea
Samantha Schaefer getting ready to teach some fractions, using pizza as a yummy example. Photo: Andrea O’Shea

One important advantage of being a graduate assistant is the opportunity to have your own classroom. Schaefer explains “This is our classroom, we are in charge of the classroom management, instruction and routine. With student teaching you are in someone else’s classroom; you need to follow the policies and procedures that are already in place.” Schaefer also explains how she enjoys being able to see the students’ progress from start to finish, as the program runs from October to April.

Howe recently went on an interview for a job, and during the interview, she was able to talk about her experience being a graduate assistant and her role in the classroom. She spoke exclusively about the Center: how she differentiates her instruction, how she incorporates technology and trying to reach all of her students by understanding their strengths and areas of need. The interviewer considered her highly qualified, Howe even admitting “the interviewer was in love with me.”

Photo: Andrea O'Shea
Schaefer organizes student homework supplies. Photo: Andrea O’Shea

Another advantage of being a graduate assistant is the ability to “keep current in the field of education” which is extremely important for teachers. Within the Center’s classrooms, the graduate assistants are able to utilize Apple TVs, iPads and Smartboards within their daily instruction which allows for the student participants to receive instruction in an interactive way. The Center recently purchased a Swivl which will allow the graduate assistants to videotape their instruction and reflect on their teaching.

Howe and Schaefer are two students that are going to be highly successful in their field due to the unique opportunity that Daemen was able to offer them. They are allowed to develop their own teaching styles, and can apply what they learned in their undergraduate program and what they are currently learning in their graduate classes. The after-school program offered at the Thomas Reynolds Center is a wonderful opportunity for both students and teachers-in-training to grow, and become better at what they do. This program offers a remarkable experience that will allow the graduate assistants to have confidence in their ability to teach, with ongoing support from the staff at the Center.  If you are interested in becoming a graduate assistant with the Center, please contact Lisa Waterrose at


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