It is only ten weeks, but for many it seems like ten years. Student teaching is when aspiring teachers decide, once and for all, if teaching is really what they want to do for a career. It is ten weeks of nonstop learning. A student teacher will most likely learn more about teaching in that short time than she did in the rest of her college career combined. No methods or classroom management class can really prepare somebody to stand in front of twenty-eight, sugar-infused students, while trying to teach them about subject-verb agreement. It is what you, as the student teacher, do in those ten weeks that will determine if you will truly make it as a teacher. As if the grade that a student teacher is to receive is not enough pressure, the idea that this whole process is also an audition for a job adds even more. All of these stressors could end up contributing to a poor student teaching experience, but if you follow these tips, much of the stress could be alleviated, and before you know it, you may be able to eliminate the “student” part of your current title, and simply call yourself a “teacher”.
1.) 10 weeks is not enough:
Most student teaching experiences last for ten weeks, but if you ask anybody who has been through the process, ten weeks is not even close to enough. I did my student teaching in the fall semester, and my start date was in the middle of October. Fortunately for me, I was doing my student teaching at my alma mater and my cooperating teacher was my former high school baseball coach, with whom I had an excellent relationship. He advised me to come in at the beginning of the school year (early September) to observe my future classes and to get to know the students. I could never put into appropriate words how much this helped. I had approximately a month and half to build a report with these students that I never could have done in just ten weeks. I had built such a good relationship with my students in those weeks prior to student teaching that once the process began, I did not have to waste any time trying to gain respect. It was already there. Because I spoke with my cooperating teacher often, even before the experience, he was able to give me this advice. Most student teachers, however, do not know their cooperating teacher, so you would have to initiate this contact and ask if it would be okay for you to come early, just to observe. Any cooperating teacher, who is truly in this to help mold student teachers into effective teachers, would never deny this request, but instead would welcome you and appreciate the solid work ethic that you have just displayed.
2.) Dress the part:
On the first day of observations, I showed up to work with cargo pants, white gym socks, and a wrinkled shirt with a tie that didn’t even come close to matching. I looked like a character straight out of some Nickelodeon cartoon. I thought I looked great. I was so excited to show off my new tie that I had purchased just two days ago for this very moment. Who knew that ties had to actually match my shirt? And it wasn’t like anybody was going to see my socks, anyway, so why did I have to get those uncomfortable and expensive dress socks? My cooperating teacher looked at me and simply said, “This won’t work.” In all seriousness, we talked for about a half hour on the importance of dressing well. Appearance means everything to kids. If a teacher looks sloppy, the students will assume he is sloppy, leading to a lack of respect. This tip is not only for student teaching, however. Once you become a teacher, you should still dress to impress, so to speak. Too many teachers walk around in jeans, sneakers, and un-tucked, wrinkled shirts. While many teacher unions protect their members from being disciplined for attire, it does not mean that you should not be professional.
3.) Show up early, leave late:
A good teacher does not come to school right before the bell rings for first period and leave when the bell rings after last period. New teachers, especially, have so much work to do, whether it is preparing for tomorrow’s lesson or grading today’s work, that they cannot possibly be effective if they only work from bell to bell. Many people don’t understand that a teacher’s job is far more than the seven or so hours that he is at school. This is also why many prospective teachers either realize after student teaching that it is not for them or end up quitting shortly after. Even five years into teaching, I still come to school an hour before the first bell and at least an hour after the last. Even this does not eliminate work I have to do at home, but it sure does cut it down into a manageable amount.
4.) Get in good standing with the important people in the building:
One of the most important pieces of advice my cooperating teacher gave me was to make sure “the important people in the building liked me.” Those important people are not who you might imagine. They were not administrators or even fellow teachers. They were the custodians and the principal’s secretary. Both of those people have the ability to make your lives so much easier. They are easily forgotten by many veteran teachers, but they make the school run, and they truly value the people who recognize them for their efforts. A simple “thank you” to your custodian for cleaning your room will go a long way. You may also notice that if you are fortunate enough to get a job at that school, your classroom may just be a little cleaner than some others.
5.) Don’t hide from potential colleagues:
Don’t forget, you are in a school, and just like the students, teachers also love to gossip. Without fail, within a week of a new intern or student teacher entering my building, the faculty has already made a decision on him or her. That may seem unfair, but nonetheless, it happens. With that in mind, make sure you are friendly and outgoing to the whole faculty. Being reserved may come off as self-centered or unsociable. Being coined unsociable is difficult to shake. You may also want to observe other teachers’ classes during your time at the school. By branching out to other teachers and even teachers of other subject areas, you are not pigeonholing yourself to seeing only one style of teaching. I was able to take little parts of the different styles and blend them together to make up my current mode of teaching.
6.) Let your ideas be heard:
This is so very important. Many student teachers are afraid to speak up at department meetings because they do not want to cause any “waves” or seem like they think they know it all. While speaking you mind and contributing some of your ideas may annoy some of the “veteran” teachers, at the same time you may impress your department chair or supervisor. I put veteran in quotation marks because I am not referring to the actual veteran teachers who still love their jobs. I am referring to the teachers who are hanging on to those final years for some extra money, and believe me, there is really nothing you can do to make them happy, so while you should remain cordial towards them, do not keep quiet out of fear of annoying them. Remember, you do need to win over your colleagues, but make sure you know which ones can help you and try to stay close to them. I am the type of person who will speak his mind when necessary, and I firmly believe that it was my willingness to contribute some of my fresh, original ideas during department meetings that helped me get a job at that same school the following year.
7.) Admit your mistakes, and learn from them:
It is almost unheard of for a student teacher to make it through the ten weeks without making some pretty big mistakes. That is expected. You are being placed in front of a classroom of children for the first time in your lives, and then you are told to teach them. It is terrifying, and at some point you will most likely mess up. That is okay. Admit your mistake, but more importantly, talk about it. Sit down with your cooperating teacher and discuss what happened, and how you can avoid the same mistake, or similar mistakes, in the future. When I did my student teaching, there was one student who made it his goal to get under my skin. I must admit, classroom management is probably my biggest strength, and even when I was student teaching, I was pretty advanced at it. However, I let this one particular student get to me. He would constantly challenge me and ask questions with the sole purpose of stumping me. It did not work until I just stopped calling on him. When he finally asked me why I refused to call on him, I fired back, in front of the whole class with an inappropriate comment. I knew right away that I messed up and I was petrified. I knew that I had built a good enough relationship with the rest of the class that they would probably go to bat for me, but nevertheless, I was the teacher and I was supposed to be the mature, responsible one, and for this split second, I wasn’t. Right when the bell rang, I went to my cooperating teacher, told him what happened, and he ended up talking to the student and his guidance counselor, and he effectively took care of the situation. The moral of the story is that had I tried to act like the incident never happened by not telling my cooperating teacher, this student could have made this situation much worse. But, because I was proactive and willing to throw my pride out the window by admitting my mistake, the situation was handled, and I learned a valuable lesson in the process.
8.) Ask questions:
When you are spending an entire day around experienced teachers, it only makes sense to pick their brains as much as possible. Ask them how they handle certain situations. You will find that if you ask five teachers how they handle one specific situation, you will most likely end up with five different answers. That is the beauty of this profession. There is not one way to be a good, effective teacher. Every teacher needs to find his or her way. I made it my duty to gather as much information from as many teachers as I could and then once I had it all, I sifted through it, taking pieces from each, and formulated my own style from it. Teachers love to talk about their methods and tell stories about what they have been through, so do not be afraid to ask. You will be surprised how much you will learn from a couple of conversations with good teachers that you could never learn from a textbook.
9.) Get comfortable, but not too comfortable:
There is a fine line between getting comfortable in your student teaching classroom, and becoming too comfortable. As the weeks go on, and you feel more like a teacher, it is important to remember that you are still auditioning for that job. It is great to build relationships with your students, but you do not want to be looked at as the “cool young teacher.” It is okay to be cool, but you must be professional and keep an educational persona in and out of the classroom if students are around. If all you turn into is “the cool guy,” then the people who will be responsible for hiring you will not think you are ready to be a responsible, mature teacher, which will obviously not be good if you want to get hired. Yes, it is important to be liked, and don’t let anybody tell you any differently. It is an “old school” thought process to think that it doesn’t matter if the kids like you as long as you are a good teacher. In this era, with the type of students that we are teaching, it is nearly impossible to reach a student and make him want to learn in your class if you have not built a decent relationship with him first. The students are getting tougher and are being given more power by administrators and programs like SRBI, so if you are despised by your students during your student teaching, it will be difficult for you to get hired. At the same time, you must gain their respect. There is no greater indicator of an effective teacher than the respect he has gotten from his students.
10.) Have fun:
Finally, and probably the most important tip is to make sure you have fun. Ten weeks will fly by and before you know it you will be out in the real world either trying to find a job or already working. This process, while stressful at times, should be fun. After my student teaching, it was very difficult to leave the classroom that I had called mine for over two months. It was bittersweet to finally be able to go and find a real, paying job, but at the same time walk away from a “job” that I loved so much. My cooperating teacher, who I actually teach right next door to now, and I still reminisce over some of the fun times we had during my student teaching days. We still laugh about some of the funny moments, he still teases me about my run in with the difficult student, but at the end of the conversation, we both end up simply talking about how much fun it really was. When I hear some of the horror stories about other teachers’ student teaching experiences, I realize how blessed I was to have such a great one. To this day, I still feel that my student teaching was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Hopefully, with these ten tips, you will feel the same way once you have completed yours.