Teaching is not easy. I know, there are a million people that would disagree with me, but chances are that they are not teachers. Everyday, I am met with situations that I am woefully unprepared for and surprises that I am constantly taken aback by. I feel comfortable speaking for the majority of educators when I say that there is nothing that can adequately prepare a teacher for his/her job.
In general, to become an educator, an individual needs a Bachelor’s Degree. As part of a teacher preparation program, future teachers endure a mixture of classwork, bookwork, clinical experiences and discussions. The capstone to a teacher’s education is the student teaching experience. The sad reality is that the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars spent on becoming an educator does nothing to prepare you for your job – that is until you student teach. I can speak from experience when I say that it wasn’t until I completed my student teaching experience that I had the slightest idea of what I was in for. Here are five lessons that I learned from student teaching that I could have never learned elsewhere.
5 Lessons I Learned From Student Teaching
Students often have nicer cars than the teachers. I know, it sounds stupid, but I was surprised when I showed up on my first day in a beat-up, very used Geo Metro, and I parked it in-between a Ford Mustang and a Hummer H2. Yes, this was just a metaphor for just how much some of my students had, and how financially blessed they were. The shocking part was that while some were staggeringly well-off, some had virtually nothing; my professors had told me that there was disparity in public schools, but I had no idea of just how wide the gap is. As an educator, I am expected to get these diverse groups of students to look past deeply ingrained social realities and work together as equals. At no point in my education was I equipped or prepared for this. Both sides of the gap often refuse to work with “people like them,” and both sides of the gap have the potential to be vicious to the other side. I had to learn, during my student teaching, that the only commonality groups of students usually have is the mission or the assigned task. If you want a diverse and disparate group to work together, you have to get them see the task and nothing else.
There are no rules for conflict resolution. While in college, I took a “communications class.” This class was designed to help future teachers effectively communicate, actively listen, and successfully deescalate conflict. Aside from learning to nod when someone is talking to me, the class offered nothing. I remember specifically that I was presented a very structured process for conflict resolution which included matching the aggressor in tone and volume, restating frequently, and using active “I messages.” The first time I tried this with an upset parent, he accused me of being too passive, and the next time I was accused of being far too aggressive. My results with students were even more confusing. I learned very quickly while student teaching that every situation is unique, and every parent and student is an individual. There are no rules for dealing with upset students, parents, or colleagues. As a student teacher, I was not at all prepared to read each situation and treat it uniquely. Thankfully, my students taught me very quickly that I needed to toss out the rules of conflict resolution and learn to be a conflict negotiator instead.
Students need and want adults to be in charge. In college, I was taught that successful classroom management revolved around consistency, communication, and having firm expectations, but I was never taught why. While I was student teaching, I learned very early that if I was consistent and firm, I would be the only person in many student’s lives that offered any stability or consistency. My students, at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum, were living lives with absent parents, inconsistent rules, and zero stability. It wasn’t until my student teaching that the students taught me that the equilibrium and steadiness that I created in my classroom would be a refuge fro their chaotic world. Yes, they pushed back constantly, and yes they eternally accused me of being too tough, but they always would come to me and my classroom for rest and safety.
Students die. While I was student teaching, there was a car accident that resulted in a fatality at my school. I was devastated; the student body was torn apart. Yes, I knew that tragedies happened and that people could die. I also knew that, if it happened, I would need to play a part in helping students heal, but my college professors did nothing to prepare me to do that. It wasn’t until I found myself staring at an empty desk in a classroom full of students wanting to know “why?” that I knew just how instrumental I would be in the healing of the students. I learned quickly how to compartmentalize my own feelings, listen, and how to embrace my helplessness and just to be there. My students taught me that I could not fix things for them, but they didn’t need me to – they just need me to care.
My professors did a horrible job preparing their students, and so will I. The reality is that I am trying to prepare my students for a world that doesn’t exist. For the most part, they will have careers in fields that haven’t been invented yet, and they will be using technologies that haven’t even been dreamed of. I am doing my best, but for the most part, I have no idea what I am doing. I learned during my student teaching that my content, for the most part, was insignificant. What I needed to teach my students was problem solving, communication skills, collaboration, and cooperation. I could teach my students everything there was to know about commas, composition, and English, but unless they could problem solve and collaborate, they would never achieve anything. The lessons I learned while student teaching happened to be the very same lessons I needed to teach my students.