Thinking back on the last 13 years, I realize that I’ve come a long way since my days as a student teacher. Now, I’m watching my nephew, Chris, begin that same exciting journey. So to help him and others along the way, I decided to put together the top 10 lessons I’ve learned. These are student teaching survival tips that I wish someone had shared with me.
Tip #1: Prepare for 60 hour weeks
If you have a social life, forget it. You will work longer and harder than you ever have in your life time. Don’t get me wrong, the reward is worth it, but you need to understand that there will be many late nights spent lesson planning and grading.
Tip #2: Give Up Perfectionism
Don’t try to make everything perfect. You’re not, and your students and mentors will not expect you to be. In fact, demonstrating how to handle your mistakes is a great model for your students. Plus, if you don’t give up perfectionism, those 60 hour weeks will actually be 80 hours weeks!
Tip #3: Don’t Collect Everything
If you collect everything students produce, you’ll end up pulling a few overnighters that you thought you were leaving behind in college. Instead, try spot checking assignments or giving an occasional completion grade on the spot.
Tip #4: Be Coachable
Coaches will tell you that the athletes they enjoy working with the most are not necessarily the most athletic. They are the ones who listen to their advice. If you are willing to listen, you’ll have mentors that will invest the time in helping you survive.
Tip #5: Don’t Save Everything
Teachers are packrats for a reason. We hate to reinvent the wheel and are terrified to throw anything away. Now, there’s a bit of truth to that, but after 13 years, I’ve learned that this stuff tends to multiply. Plus, I can’t find it anyway. Instead, honestly evaluate whether you will use the material again. If the lesson bombed, perhaps it belongs in the trash.
Tip #6: Give Up Control
Classroom management is not about control; it’s about management. If you try to control someone, what’s the first thing they do? They rebel — especially teenagers. If you truly want students to learn, you have to find ways to “convince” them to buy into the education process. Please understand that I’m not saying don’t have rules and enforce them. You must. Just don’t make it about control.
Tip #7: Form a Relationship
The best way to “manage” students is through forming relationships with them. If they like and respect you, they will do almost anything you ask. Use humor, especially with boys, and take time to chat with students. Share stories with them and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. They’ll respect you for that.
Tip #8: You Are Not Their Friend
A relationship does not equal friendship. In order to maintain classroom management, students have to respect you and your authority. After all, do they respect their friend’s authority? No! So, keep that line in place. Insist they use your last name, don’t befriend them on Facebook, and don’t let them talk to you like they talk to their friends. This is especially difficult during student teaching when your ages may not be that far apart.
Tip #9: Avoid Public Confrontations
Avoid public confrontations; you’ll lose. Oh, you may make your point. You may even “feel” better after you’ve metaphorically taken a kid’s head off, but what did you gain in the end? Nothing but resentment from the child, and you probably escalated the situation. Instead, take the student into the hall, or ask to speak to him after class. He won’t feel like he’s backed into a corner, and he may even be more willing to listen to what you have to say.
Tip #10: Remind Students of Their Choices
One of the most useful classroom management skills, I ever mastered was the art of reminding the students about their choices. First, I never yelled; I just stated the options and the consequences of each in a calm voice. Sometimes this would be in the hall, or I might even lean over and whisper to the student. Then, I walked away giving the student time to think. This avoids escalating the situation, and it puts the onus on the student. You’ll be amazed at how often he will make the right decision.
Well, there they are – the top 10 student teaching survival tips that I wished someone had shared with me. I suspect that a few of these I did hear, but I had to learn them the hard way. You will too, but you’ll have a blast along the way. Good Luck, Chris!