Interview with Judith Gau

Presidential Award for Elementary Science Teaching, 1999

Judith Gau

After over 30 years in the classroom, Judy Gau is now working for SuccessLink Science in Missouri, providing professional development in hands-on science to teachers across the state. She has been a Delta Teacher Academy Fellow in elementary science; a STARR teacher, giving workshops across Missouri on various topics while on professional leave for a year; and a Missouri Elementary Science Connection teacher trainer. She has presented at local, state, national, and international conferences. For the past five years, she has been an eMINTS teacher, using technology and directed inquiry in the classroom.

How did you get started in pre-service education?

Early in my career, my principal asked me to become a cooperating teacher and train pre-service teachers.

How did you juggle your teaching responsibilities and pre-service work?

They are very closely intertwined. Sharing is the common denominator. You share how you put your lessons together, where you got your supplementary material, how you took a regular lesson and extended it or differentiated the instruction to meet your students special needs. You would do all of these things anyway. You have to update your lessons each year. You just do it out loud and with feedback.

If you attend meetings, take them. Do everything you usually do, but introduce your pre-service teacher to the varied jobs of a teacher. This approach requires a lot of time, but the rewards for both of you are worth it.

What advice would you give to a teacher who wants to get involved in supporting pre-service education?

Don’t hesitate. Contact your principal, local university, or other cooperating teachers to get you started. Find out the criteria for participation. Communication is key. Be prepared to justify everything you do. This is a great way to help you see your work through someone else’s eyes.

Have all your ducks in a row. You will lose a lot of time usually used for preparation. Pre-service teachers often require a lot of support, so make sure you have your basic plans set so that you only have to tweak them. Your time before and after school as well as your planning time will often be needed to answer questions, and to look over and help evaluate the pre-service teacher’s lessons before they’re taught. You will observe, offer feedback, and sometimes just get out of the way! Some pre-service teachers come to you scared to death and some come rarin’ to go. You need to know when each strategy is appropriate.

Make sure the expectations are very clear. Hand them to the pre-service teacher in writing. They need to know what you expect from them and you need to know what they expect from you.

Just like anything else, the more you do, the better you get. As you continue to work with pre-service teachers, you will become more skilled at helping and supporting them.

How has working with pre-service teachers influenced or affected your practice?

It keeps you flexible and open to new ideas. You learn as much as they do. Having someone else trying to learn from you sparks new enthusiasm for your subject matter. Justifying the reasons for your choices is like having your own little in-service to help improve your instruction. It keeps you current and on your toes. You experience the teaching practices you took for granted from a different perspective. That spells professional growth for everyone involved.

How do you decide what is most important for pre-service teachers to know and be able to do before they are given their own classrooms?

First of all they have to see the big picture in education.

  • What are the national, state, and district standards for each subject? Acquaint them with the wonderful professional organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association, National Council for the Teachers of Math, and the International Reading Association, which offer wonderful support for new teachers. Also mention state and local groups. Share their Web sites and publications.
  • You don’t support a strong curriculum with a textbook, you build it with the skill of the instructor. Textbooks, Internet sites, and other resources are important tools. But it takes a skillful teacher to mold all of these into a strong educational program that will catch the imaginations of young people and take them where they never knew they could go.
  • Model directed inquiry lessons in science or have children solve problems in math in more than one way and defend their answers. You want to show them the best.

On a day-to-day basis, there are a few things every pre-service teacher should know.

  1. Enthusiasm is key. Love what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it. If you don’t, then change it until you do. Discipline will be much less of a problem if your lessons are well planned and you have differentiated instruction when necessary.
  2. Integrate your curriculum whenever you can. For example, extend the basic science lesson to include your math and writing standards.
  3. Little things are BIG!
    • Watch your terminology. Don’t use the term “weight” when you mean “mass,” or “product” when you mean “quotient.”
    • Have procedures that remain the same for such things as handing out or collecting materials so that you don’t have to give more directions than are necessary.
    • Remember that the person doing the work is the person doing the learning. Make sure the students are doing the work, not just you. To check, listen and see who is doing the most talking. It should be the students.

Be prepared to give feedback to the university through the supervising teacher. Give suggestions to help close the gap in areas where the students needed more training.

If you have any questions you would like to ask Judy Gau about her experiences in supporting pre-service education, contact her at


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