MACON, Ga. – Prospective teachers at Mercer University can now learn how to understand the various types of children they will encounter in today’s classrooms. With the Tift College of Education’s newest program, The Holistic Child, future educators have the opportunity to maximize their teaching skills by studying diverse groups of students.
"This program is the first of its kind in the state," said Associate Professor Margaret Morris. "Most teachers don’t have the skills to handle children with special needs, such as behavioral disorders, learning disabilities and mental or physical disabilities. We are offering a truly integrated program of Early Childhood Education and interrelated Special Education to enable teachers to reach every type of child."
Mercer students enter the new program as freshmen and follow a four-year track of classes and field experiences. Every class is team-taught by Morris, for Early Childhood Education, and Assistant Professor Calandra Lockhart, for Special Education. This approach provides a unique combination of instruction that allows students to become certified in two fields.
"Having a program with dual-certification is definitely appealing," said Julie Gerbert of Warner Robins, one of the 12 students in The Holistic Child program. "By knowing more about special education, we will be more marketable as teachers."
Other types of special needs of children are also addressed in program courses. Spanish classes are required of students in order to assist with some of the language barriers they may later encounter in their classrooms as teachers.
"Class structures are changing, and more classrooms now hold diverse groups," said student Kristina Sapp of Cochran. "It is, therefore, important to be able to include children that struggle with English."
Students in Mercer’s program even have the option to take summer classes and receive an endorsement on their certification that enables them to instruct children who use English as a second language. The English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program provides strategies for teachers to effectively work with non-native speakers of English in the regular classroom.
"With The Holistic Child, the whole child is looked at, inclusive classrooms are dissected, and even children with different personal backgrounds are considered," Lockhart said. "We will produce teachers that can deal with today’s children in every imaginable venue."
As the program evolves, The Holistic Child professors aim to continue a focus on how to teach the various types of children entering mainstream classrooms. Each course involves a small group of students and works well because of peer support and the program’s unique vision and process.
"I like that I will be able to meet all of my students’ needs and give each one my personalized attention," said student Jessica Harrell of Thomasville. "With this program, I know that I will be ready to give more to each child in my classroom."