During my student teaching I learned SO MUCH. I student taught at the county school near my university. Through the grapevine, I had heard of how awful that school system supposedly was. I heard of their ungodly high turnover rate and heard horror stories of the disrespectful students. “Ooooohh, have fun with that. . .” was the empathetic answer I would receive when I divulged where I would be teaching at. I honestly was just looking forward to being done with the experience.
It was a population of students that I was not familiar working with. I grew up and experienced my education in middle to upper-class suburbia. While on the other hand, I was student teaching in an area of extremely low socioeconomic status. Most of our students were on free and reduced lunch, and we had some freshly pained signs outside the school proclaiming that this was a gang free school zone. Tiny little me was scared.
As it ended up, student teaching was the most amazing and fulfilling experience of my life. I adored the students, the staff, and the administration. Graciously, during student teaching I was nominated for the Tamara Bird Jones Outstanding Student Teacher Award. I would be absolutely honored to work at the school I student taught at, and have accepted a grant in which I pledge to work in “high need” schools for four years post graduation.
I would have never been given these opportunities if I had not of pushed aside my feelings of doubt caused by other people’s opinions of the school and dove head first into student teaching.
Here are my tips for getting the most out of your student teaching experience:
1. Get out of your comfort zone
Most people student teach in their hometown and live with their parents while doing so. Don’t. Student teach in a school district that you know nothing about. We as teachers constantly are trying to get our students out of their comfort zone by assigning groups and changing seats weekly. We understand what when students get out of their comfort zone, amazing things happen. Why don’t we apply that principle to ourselves? When we push ourselves to teach in a district that is out of our comfort zone, we get to know a population of students that we normally wouldn’t be able to meet.
2. Go to all meetings and PARTICIPATE in them
Go to all the meetings possible. Often, cooperating teachers will mention that they have a meeting at a certain time and say offhandedly, “you don’t have to go if you don’t want to”. Although you could certainly get so many things done alone in the room while your cooperating teacher is out, don’t. Go to the meetings. Go to all-staff meetings. Go to IEP meetings. Go to grade level meetings. Don’t just go to them and doodle on your scrap piece of paper and gaze longingly at your planner that you wish you were crossing things off on. Participate. Listen. Ask questions. Bring up new topics. Engage in conversations. Sitting in an IEP meeting and you want to add something about the student they are currently discussing? Add it in.When you go to meetings and participate in them, many things happen. Arguably most importantly, the principal and administration notice you. You aren’t just another student teacher at your school. You’re that student teacher. Even if you don’t want to teach at that certain school once you complete your residency, a letter of recommendation from administration where you student taught at is STRONG. Also, when you engage and meet other teachers, you build connections and start to network. It’s a small world and you never know who knows who.
3. Be organized
Another point that I can’t stress enough. One thing I noticed when I was student teaching was that I never knew when the principal or vice principal would stop in. I can also tell you from first hand experience that nothing is more embarrassing than searching for papers with a panicked look on your face while mumbling “I know they’re here somewhere. . ” while your students and principal look at you with big bewildered eyes. Be organized. Have a set place for the day’s lesson plans and worksheets. Have a set place to put worksheets when students are done with them. Also, always carry extra lesson plans. Nothing looks more impressive than asking the principal to observe or join in your lesson when she pops by, and whipping out an extra lesson plan for them to look over. I posted a blog about how I organized my papers during student teaching. Click HERE to view it! On most job applications for teachers, you have to put where you student taught at, keep that in the back of your mind.
4. Be flexible
I was not a flexible person. I like order and I like things to always happen on time. Notice how I say was. During my second student teaching placement, I learned how to be flexible. The general education teacher was very relaxed and went with the flow. We went over on social studies today? No big deal. Decided today to do a lab experiment? No big deal. Let’s do a last-minute lesson on verbs. At first, this made me upset. “What do you mean we’re not having math today?!?! I planned the most awesome Pinterest worthy activity!?!”. This change won’t happen overnight, but learn how to say, “Sounds great, let’s do it!”Have extra worksheets ready in case your teacher decides to spend more time in a topic on a day. Flexibility is a highly coveted trait to have.
5. Take charge and take on challenges
Opportunities to do this come up so often during student teaching, but we rarely act on them. Perhaps your cooperating teacher mentions she needs to work on a certain poster, project or lesson plan that she doesn’t have time to do. Offer to do it for her. I can guarantee that she will appreciate it. Take charge in the classroom. Once the general education teacher that taught in our cooperating classroom was unexpectedly absent and we did not have a sub. At first, I hung back, waiting to see what my cooperating teacher would do, trying to gauge her expressions. After watching my cooperating teacher for a little bit, I decided to take charge after our students watched a short video. The students and I started a compare and contrast chart on biomes. We ended up having a really juicy and thought-provoking conversation about them, and learned more than what was expected. I then got them all packed up and we all happily went out to the bus waves. I remember returning to the classroom to her saying, “wow, you are small but mighty. I didn’t know that you had that in you“. Trust me, take charge. It makes a difference, like I said earlier, you don’t want to be just another student teacher.
6. Have a behavior system
Your cooperating teacher most likely has some sort of behavior system in place, but don’t be afraid to add in elements of your own as well. Once you start teaching full-time for your cooperating teacher, things can get out of hand and hectic quickly. Your kids are going to test you and test you hard. You can explain to your students that when you’re teaching, you’re going to do things a little differently than what they’re used to. For example, explained to my students that when I was a kid we played a game called “nose goes”, and when I put my finger on my nose, once you notice you need to put YOUR finger on your nose and have a quiet mouth and your hands in your lap. They loved playing that game. Although you are in the same classroom as your cooperating teacher, you can implement your own little behavior interventions, tips and tricks to help the classroom run more smoothly while you’re in charge. It is very impressive to see a student teacher with her entire classroom together, focused, and engaged.
7.Stay calm and have the ability to laugh at yourself
Student teaching is a time of. . . not perfectness. That’s okay. Not every lesson you teach will be perfect and profoundly reach your students. You’re going to mess up, I promise you. I messed up a whole week of teaching the Sumerians and we had to re-learn them the next week. Remember to not take it too seriously. Have the ability to call your best friend or mom and laugh about what happened. It’s okay 🙂
All in all, make the most out of student teaching and don’t just be a bystander! Please make sure to share the post or the blog on Facebook if you like it :).