RACHEL WAAGMEESTER, a sixth-grade student teacher, stands outside the Madison Middle School office on March 2. Waagmeester, who is student teaching under language arts and social studies instructor Kim Sheppard, dreams of working as a middle school teacher in the Madison Central School District.
Rachel Waagmeester wears many hats – she’s working as a new student teacher, completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and raising a family. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Currently, Waagmeester is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in mathematical technology and engineering in December. She was accepted into a program which allows her to take graduate-level courses while completing her bachelor’s degree.
Despite seeking a master’s degree in mathematics and having a “math brain,” Waagmeester is student-teaching under Kim Sheppard, a sixth-grade social studies and language arts teacher at Madison Middle School.
“I was open to it, and I was happy that I got to be in this [classroom] to expand some of my experience in this area,” Waagmeester said. “I was not expecting to enjoy it this much. I knew I was going to love being in a classroom, but I didn’t know how much I would love language arts that it’s making me wonder if math is my future or not.”
Waagmeester has a lifelong love of learning, partially from growing up with her mother, who was also a teacher. But this expansion of her horizons is personal, too. She is creating a work sample on teaching about South Dakota’s Native American tribes, a topic that sparked her interest because her nieces and nephews are members of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
Her whole family is proud of the profession she’s chosen, Waagmeester said. Waagmeester, who grew up in a small town south of Pierre, lives in Madison with her husband, Dallas. The couple has two children: 4-year-old Jackson and 6-month-old Nash. It’s a great community to raise children in, Waagmeester said.
“They’re too young to realize, but I’m doing it for them,” she said. “My husband, he’s so funny sometimes, but he’s very supportive of me pursuing my childhood dream.”
Her dream job would be as a middle school teacher in the Madison Central School District. Even if she can’t find a job there, she hopes to stay local and teach at a small school where she can build close relationships with her students. So far, the community has been welcoming, she said, and Kim Sheppard has been an excellent mentor to her.
“I can’t thank Mrs. Sheppard enough for opening her classroom to me. She’s really a wonderful teacher,” Waagmeester said. “She knows what the kids need, and so it’s great to have such a great mentor who can show you. She shows me through adaptations as well because every day is something new. I will continue to absorb everything she’s teaching me.”
The biggest struggle for her, especially coming in with more experience in math, was making schoolwork challenging but not overly difficult. It’s a balancing act, she said.
“Finding where they’re at in their education took a little time, but we got there. I feel like I’m there now and I understand their needs and their education” Waagmeester said. “[We’re] continuously learning, and that’s the whole point.”
Waagmeester said she’s loved her student teaching experience so far, from her experienced mentor in Kim Sheppard to her energetic students.
Being assigned to Sheppard’s sixth-grade class had another advantage. Last year, Waagmeester worked with the fifth-grade students during a pre-student teaching program. Her experience with these students has affirmed her love of teaching and confirmed she’s on the right path, she said.
“I get to see all my students from last year again this year, and it’s insane in a year’s timespan how much they’ve grown,” she said. “I love interacting with all of them and getting to know them even more.”