A student-teaching experience unlike any other

April 11, 2012

Penn State student Ian Landis is having the senior experience that many would not expect. He opted to spend his last semester in the Elementary and Kindergarten Education discipline as a student teacher on an off-reservation boarding school for Native American children in South Dakota.

Originally a business major, Landis decided to pursue a degree in education after his freshman year because, he said, “I felt like I would have a larger impact on the individual lives of students and could be a role model for them.” He said he especially wants to be a positive role model to his students at the Pierre Indian Learning Center (PILC) where he is currently teaching.

A native of Quakertown, Pa., Landis explained that the inspiration to teach in Pierre for four months “came through not only the love of the western part of the country, but to see and experience something totally different.” His family and his girlfriend of five years fully supported his decision, as they agreed it would be beneficial for him to step out of his comfort zone.

According to the boarding school’s website, the PILC “serves as an educational center and living area for approximately 250 first through eighth grade students annually.” It “operates a therapeutic model that helps all students progress through past experiences so that they may be successful in the future.” The school’s instructional model is designed to meet the emotional, intellectual, and cultural needs of its students.

Teaching in Pierre is far from what Ian Landis expected, though. When he decided to complete the final student teaching curriculum and instruction experience at the school, he knew it would be life changing. But what Landis noticed when he went to pick up some of the students was more than he had bargained for.

“I could see a lot of carpooling,” he explained. “Many of the parents were nonexistent for the drop-off.” He soon learned that “some of the students are abused or neglected at home, but for many of them, social services have brought them here, or they live with family members, many of them single grandparents who simply cannot take care and provide for them.”

On his blog chronicling his stay in Pierre, Landis wrote that “psychological and emotional abuse are common among these students,” who come from 15 different tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Because of their unusual experiences, Landis says it requires a lot of patience to work with the students, known to have disciplinary issues.

“When you tell them to sit down in their chair, feet on the floor, hands in their laps, eyes on the teacher, and ears listening, that could last for 10 seconds -- if you’re lucky,” he said.

Gaining his students’ respect has proven difficult for Landis even though they spend most of their time with him, as he teaches several subjects including science, writing, social studies, and math. He also tutors and is the assistant coach of the eighth grade basketball team, which he is told could go down as one of the greatest teams to play at PILC. He admits he experienced emotional lows early in his journey, but he is committed to his students and earning their respect.

“Even though I can be frustrated beyond belief,” he explained, “the relationships that I have made with other teachers, and especially the students, are what makes it all worth it. At the end of it all, I hope that the students remember and will look up to me, as a role model and educator.”

Landis has learned to see the potential in all of his students, and with the support of his loved ones, he continues to stay positive.

For other students interested in teaching in Pierre, Landis says “go for it, if your heart is in helping those who really need someone positive in their lives.”

It wasn’t the experience he had imagined, but it has become the experience he won’t soon forget.

“It is going to be difficult to commit all of this time to my students and developing relationships with them, and then leave them and most likely never see them again,” he said. “It's going to break my heart to say goodbye…”

But Landis has a lot more to experience.

“Life is short,” he said, “and I want to pack it all in!”

Landis will be in Pierre until May 1. He is set to graduate on May 6, and will then be certified to teach grades K-6.

You can follow Ian Landis’ journey by visiting his blog at http://pilcidl.wordpress.com.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 11, 2012