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Our Illinois 4-H Story

How Teen Teachers can spark a career path

teen teachers pose and smile

You may ask what is the 4-H Teen Teacher program?

The University of Illinois Extension offers a 4-H Teen Teachers program for High School youth across Illinois. In this program, 4-H Teen Teachers develop leadership and teaching skills as they train, plan, and implement hands-on learning experiences for younger youth. Teen Teachers attend a full day of training where they learn classroom management and information about ages and stages. Once they have completed the initial training they are then trained on STEM, Healthy Living, Visual Arts, and other various activities to teach to the younger youth. Once training is complete, their local 4-H staff schedules classroom teaching opportunities in grade school settings.

In the spring of 2018 Hardin County was excited to offer our first Teen Teachers program. I must say this was a learning experience for us as staff, as well as for the students that signed up for the program. However, training was successful and it was time to set up teaching opportunities for our first group of Teen Teachers. For our first year we started with 4th grade classes and did a 6-week class of Healthy Living that included some cooking. The classes taught basic kitchen skills that included how to properly measure ingredients, how to properly use a knife and the difference between mince, chop, and slice, as well as how to make healthier choices. This group of Teen Teachers also led a weeklong afterschool cooking class. For only the first year of the program, I must say, it was a success!

Fast forward to the 2022-2023 school year. Our Teen Teachers are trained and ready to go with a goal to reach all the classrooms K-5 in Hardin County grade school. I have started scheduling classes and noticed some new names on the teacher roster. I then realized a former Teen Teacher is now one of the 2nd grade teachers! Mrs. Kathleen Robinson, a two-year member of the Teen Teacher program is now teaching her own classroom.

Through the Teen Teachers program, Mrs. Robinson was able to have hands on experience working with students. After her first experience in the classroom through 4-H, she was confident that teaching was the path for her. She said it felt good to see kids learning and having fun at the same time.

Mrs. Robinson left some great advice for new Teen Teachers, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get into a lesson for the kids. The wonderful thing about kids is that they don’t judge like adults. They are excited just to have someone that is older that is interested in them. The more excited you are, the more fun they have. I can promise you that they aren’t judging you! They are just thinking about how much fun they are having.”

We are happy to say that Mrs. Robinson recommends the Teen Teacher program and encourages fellow teachers to allow Teen Teachers to come into their classroom. Students love it and it helps high school students gain important communication and leadership skills. Mrs. Robinson also recommends the Teen Teachers program to any high school student that is interested in education or any job that will require public speaking, planning, or teamwork.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kendra Cook is an Extension 4-H Youth Development Program Coordinator serving Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope, Saline, and White counties.