From the day in college that I declared my major in education, I couldn’t wait to be a student teacher. For three and a half years, I soaked up knowledge from professors, experienced teachers, teaching assistants, mentors and textbooks. I walked into my student teaching experience in a first grade classroom wearing a new pantsuit and a big smile. I carried some solid ideas and some untested theories. I was armed with confidence and of course, a shiny new lesson plan book.
Over the student teaching semester I gleaned both big picture visions as well as little but very helpful tips from my supervising classroom teacher, my supervising college professor, the school principal and the experienced teachers that I felt honored to sit alongside with and eat my brown bag lunch. Some of the lessons I learned however came straight from the six year olds I was there to teach. My first students taught me many lessons and shaped my future in education.
Lessons from my students: Student’s life experiences matter more than you know.
From lectures, textbooks and even from common sense, student teachers know that a child’s life experiences expand their vocabulary and ability to grasp new concepts. It’s one of the reasons we try to create so many hands-on experiences in the classroom.
As I sat down in the tiny chair at the reading table in this inner city school, I was confronted with the reality that pictures and hints weren’t enough to help these kids own or even be interested in words like “luggage” and “baggage carousel” when they’d never been to an airport or even packed a suitcase for travel.
A new “air port” learning center was created complete with luggage and tickets. It wasn’t the same as a field trip to an airport, which was not in the budget, but learning took flight for all of us.
Lessons from my students: Some kids will lie to you, relentlessly.
The fact that kids will tell untruths shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone including student teachers but student teachers may be more likely to become victims, second only to substitute teachers. By the time I had become a student teacher I had been sent in to many classrooms to “observe” or to “assist.” I had never experienced kids trying pull the wool over my eyes. Looking back, I realize that this was because they knew I was not in any position of authority. There was really nothing to be gained since I had no power to offer any great rewards or on the other hand, any great consequences.
During my student teaching experience I had kids try to, and sometimes succeed in, convincing me that it was their birthday (regardless of what my student roster said), that they lost their lunch money (again) and on down the list to that their mother was dying or else very mad at me.
In future years of teaching, I can’t claim that I never faced a lie from a child again but certainly not at the level I experienced as a student teacher. There’s a good reason for that. Kids know you’re not the “real” teacher. They know that you don’t know everything. They’ll test you more. A new learning center is created and this time it’s for the teacher. It’s called “listen carefully, but verify.”
Lessons from my students: What you don’t think about may be all that a student thinks about.
Student teachers will study child development and learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and it will make perfect sense that student’s basic needs for food and sleep (Maslow’s list was longer) must be met before they can engage in learning. We all know from our own experiences as much as from a textbook that a student’s health will affect will their ability to learn and participate in the classroom.
However, there was a lesson for me to learn during my student teaching that I had never read about nor thought of. Her name was May. She never volunteered to answer a question or to share. She mumbled when asked a question directly and yet her work “on paper” was adequate. She was never reluctant to do her work and certainly never a discipline problem. Was she just really shy? Did she need speech therapy? Her kindergarten teacher said no. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was going on with her. Luckily, it revealed itself.
May came back from spring break all smiles. She talked, all the time. She had lost her two front teeth during the school break. Among the myriad of things she was now willing to converse about with me, she had, in her own words, “got rid of those two rotten front teeth.” May had been suffering from two “rotten front teeth” so much so that she’d went out of her way to make sure that no one ever saw them. I can’t know whether or not the two teeth were causing her pain, but there’s no doubt that they were causing trauma to her self-esteem. A new learning center is created and again it’s for the teacher. It’s called “if they hide, you should seek.”
As student teachers we want so much for our students to be open to learning. Before we walk in through the classroom door we have so many ideas for what and how to teach. Along with knowledge, theories, new “teacher” clothes, big smiles and of course, shiny new lesson plan books, be ready to be as much a learner as a teacher. We’re only called a “student” teacher once, and there’s a great chance that our students may teach us as many valuable lessons as we teach them.