When University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumnus Jason Weitenhiller had Raine Voigts as a student in his second-grade classroom his first year of teaching at Belmont (Wis.) Elementary School in 2005, he had no idea he would be inspiring a future teacher. He also didn’t know that throughout the next 14 years, their paths would cross several times, most recently this spring, in a classroom at Westview Elementary School in Platteville.
Thanks to a practicum course offered by the university’s School of Education, Weitenhiller, now a fourth-grade teacher at Westview, and Voigts, now a junior elementary education major at UW-Platteville, have once again found themselves in the same classroom. This time, however, Voigts is the teacher, and for an hour each day, three days per week, he teaches science and social studies to 23 students in Weitenhiller’s classroom.
The hands-on teaching opportunity has clearly enriched Voigt’s academic experience. “The practicum is giving me real life experience in the classroom that I will be able to learn from and then use later in my future teaching career,” he said. “I am also learning what classroom management skills work and how students react to certain teaching styles.”
Voigts said he loves the students’ eagerness to learn and how much joy they feel when they get a problem right. “I also enjoy being able to see progress in their learning,” he said. “As a teacher, I am invested in making all children better students and better people.”
Weitenhiller, who earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 2004 and a Master of Science in special education in 2007, is impressed with the positive impact Voigts has had on his students. “Raine possesses special qualities that make him unique as a person and as a future teacher,” he said. “He has a kind heart, a ton of patience and always strives to be the best.”
“I am incredibly proud of the caliber of the students we have at UW-Platteville, many of whom come from small communities in this area and desire to return to them to teach,” said Dr. Lindsay Hollingsworth, associate professor of education at UW-Platteville and instructor of the practicum. “We are also fortunate to have such strong partnerships with area schools and teachers who welcome our students into their K-12 classrooms. Strong practicum and student teaching placements are essential in training quality teachers.
Weitenhiller as teacher, mentor
Voigts is grateful he has the opportunity to be mentored by his former second-grade teacher. “Mr. W. possesses many qualities that make him an excellent teacher and mentor,” he said. “He is confident, reliable, honest, hard-working and interpersonal. He is also a great role model for students and for future teachers. He wants all of his students, and me, to succeed in everything we do."
Voigts said what he likes most about working with Weitenhiller is seeing him interact with all of his students. “It is easy to see that Mr. W. has created a relationship with every single student in his class,” he said. “He manages his classroom at all times and makes learning fun for his students. He inspires me to be an effective teacher every day and has shown me how to positively affect students’ lives. He encourages me to be a teacher who will have those types of impacts on my own students.”
Voigts noted that years ago, when Weitenhiller was his high school football coach at Belmont, he taught him the importance of working together as a team and how to be a leader. “Over the years, he taught me how to carry myself, not only as a teacher, but also as an individual,” he said.
Technology project helps students explore the world
Weitenhiller, Voigts and the students are currently working on a special project to create Google Expeditions – an application that enables students to explore the world virtually through augmented reality/virtual reality technology – of Platteville landmarks. Voigts, guided by Weitenhiller, is helping students select locations in Platteville, research the locations, then write up a Google Expedition.
First, the fourth-grade class selected different historical places throughout Platteville, such as the Rountree Stone Cottage, Platteville Normal School and the Platte Mound “Big M.” Following, students learned how to operate a 360-degree camera and how to use different sources to research historical places. When the project is finished, people from all over the world will be able to take virtual tours of Platteville.
Weittenhiller noted the importance of incorporating technology and innovation in the classroom. “Just about every job out there requires computer skills,” he said. “Technology has changed a lot in since I graduated from UW-Platteville 14 years ago, but I really enjoy having the college methods students come into my room and show new things they have seen and been exposed to. With Google Expeditions, the students can visually see a place we are talking about that is thousands of miles away.”
“I believe it is important to use technology and innovation in the classroom because it allows students to learn in new and creative ways,” added Voigts. “Students need many different ways to learn in order to keep them engaged and excited.”
Hands-on learning, outstanding professors critical to Voigts’ and Weitenhiller’s success
Voigts noted that hands-on learning opportunities and outstanding professors have been critical to his academic success. To date, he has completed more than 20 hours of observation hours, more than 10 hours of service-learning hours and a practicum in a kindergarten classroom at Dodgeville (Wis.) Elementary School.
“I really enjoy the small class sizes and the personal setting of UW-Platteville,” said Voigts. “I have built so many positive relationships with classmates, professors and other university faculty. My professors know who I am as a person. They care about my education and they really want me to be successful in everything that I do. They are invested in my future and are willing to give me all the advice and knowledge that I need."
When Weitenhiller was asked what he loved most about his education at UW-Platteville, he said, “The professors, many of whom had been classroom teachers at one point in their careers, were great. They really went the extra mile to help their students. Having some of the same professors for multiple classes was great too, because I already knew them and had a relationship built.”
“At UW-Platteville, students have much more accessibility to their professors than they would at a larger university,” added Weitenhiller. “UW-Platteville did a great job preparing me for the classroom. It got my classmates and me into the classrooms early in our college careers. Hands-on learning was by far the best learning experience.”
For Weitenhiller, earning a degree from UW-Platteville is clearly a family affair. His wife Liz earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in spring 2005 and currently teaches kindergarten at Neil Wilkins Early Learning Center in Platteville.
Looking to the future
As soon as he graduates from UW-Platteville, Voigts hopes to become an elementary teacher and basketball coach. “Like Mr. W., I hope to impact as many students and athletes that I can during my teaching and coaching career,” he said. “I want to create everlasting relationships with them and want them to see me as more than just a teacher or coach. I want them to see me as a role model and someone they trust and someone they respect.”
“I have been teaching long enough to have past students graduate and move on with their lives,” said Weitenhiller. “It is really satisfying when they come back to see you or message you to let you know how they are doing. It has been such a pleasure to teach, mentor and coach Raine when he was an elementary student, a high school student, and now, a university student. Things have truly come full circle.”