Derek Ihrke does things outside of school, and most of those things are even outside.

“I enjoy hunting and fishing, playing and watching sports of all kinds. It’s funny how when the first graders or the little kids see you outside of school, they can’t believe it’s you,” said student teacher Ihrke.

Ihrke is teaching at Chatfield Elementary for the next four weeks.

He assures his students that he’s real, even when he’s not standing at the front of Kathy Hanson’s sixth grade class or when he wasn’t leading Josh Berhow’s first graders as part of his practicum to round out his studies to become an elementary education and sixth grade social studies instructor.

The Winona State University-Rochester student joined the staff at Chatfield Elementary School on Jan. 9 and has hopes of soon becoming a teacher in his own classroom following his graduation in May.

He related, “I’ve always really enjoyed being around children. It’s something I’ve always been good at, and they’ve always seemed to like being around me. I thought that teaching would be a good fit. I’ll be graduating May 5, so I’m almost done.”

Ihrke grew up between Chatfield and St. Charles, but he attended school in St. Charles. However, when it came time for him to register his choices for internship opportunities, he considered his neighbors in Chatfield as welcoming.

“I got to give a few choices which schools I wanted to teach at around the Rochester area, and Chatfield was one of those. It’s been refreshing to get out of my classroom and get into an elementary classroom,” he said. “It feels good to be around kids, feed off from their energy they come and provide every day.”

His student-teaching period has been beneficial so far, in that he has had the chance to be in charge in Berhow’s classroom and will soon be in Hanson’s.

“My experience in Chatfield has opened my eyes and prepared me for what’s actually to come. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to have full control of a classroom for a whole day, and it’s provided a really good experience and prepared me for the day and how to help students,” he said. “A lot of things, they do teach in my classes, but certain situations are kind of spur of the moment and you have no idea they’re coming, so you have to react accordingly to a lot of things.”

Ihrke explained that without an opportunity to control a classroom on his own during student teaching, he would expect to be pretty nervous about going into a teaching job next year.

“I really feel more prepared,” he added. “Giving me full control of a classroom…Josh Berhow’s, I give him a lot of credit for that. I’m not going to do things the exact same way he does them, obviously, but it takes a special kind of person to give up their classroom for a period of time.”

Ihrke added that he can most certainly tell the difference between teaching in first grade and in sixth grade. “The independence level is probably the biggest difference. In sixth grade, you can talk about the material and set them free to work on their own, but in first grade, they’re just starting their schooling so you need to teach them and help them out as they go along, as they’re trying to apply that skill,” he said.

Ihrke shared that he’s also had a lot of fun while practicing what he’s learned in his education classes, but also learning through hands-on experiences.

“It’s been a great, great experience for me,” he concluded. “All the teachers have been good to me, and all the kids come to school excited every day. Hopefully Chatfield will be able to say the same about me, that it’s been a good experience.”