Student teaching is the ultimate and often final challenge for those who are about to become teachers. It’s equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking and, for some, can make-or-break their decision to continue with their teaching experience.
All of your education courses have prepared you for this, but more often than not, you’re left with a plethora of worries and questions as those final weeks countdown to your first day of school. However, there are several tips and tricks to remember that might help ease the transition from student to student teacher. Here are just the few that I’ve learned so far.
- Get to know your cooperating teacher
Whether your college selects your cooperating teacher for you or you find your teacher yourself, make sure you get to know them before your first day. Not only does it help ease the transition but, simply put, they know a lot more than you do. I’ve been student teaching for a few weeks now and my cooperating teacher is my lifeline. She’s been a teacher for years and has known the students longer than I have. Our relationship is important and I know that I can go to her with questions ranging from individualized classroom etiquette to state standards. You learn by asking questions, and your cooperating teacher is there to help!
- Go shopping
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: college is expensive. But owning teacher clothes is a MUST. You can’t walk into this classroom wearing a pair of Uggs and the same pair of wine-scented Cheeto-stained sweatpants you wore last night during your Brooklyn Nine-Nine marathon. So save your money and buy what you can. Don’t be afraid to check out Walmart, Amazon, or your local thrift store. Their prices may be low but every teacher is working toward the same goal. So as long as you look the part, who cares what was on the price tag?
- If the students aren’t responding, change your approach
It’s so easy to plan a lesson and grow attached to the idea of it working perfectly. But in reality, that’s not always the case. On paper, you can have the most fantastic lesson plan that would score the highest possible marks on the edTPA, but in the end, it all comes down to the kids. If your class is full of visual learners, you don’t want to fill their entire day with lectures. Give the students something that entices, but educates. If you’re stuck figuring out the best way to approach the students’ learning styles, ask them! They are one of your best resources when it comes to understanding how they operate, so don’t be afraid to take a step back and ask the class “why isn’t this working?” Or “what can we do to make this lesson better?”
- Build a rapport with your students
It’s difficult for student teachers to come into a classroom environment in the middle of the year and take over, but having a good relationship with your students plays a pivotal role in their success. If the kids don’t trust you, they’ll be less receptive to accept whatever concepts you’re throwing at them. Alternatively, if you’re too friendly with the students, they might see you as a peer instead of an instructor and not want to listen to you when it comes to instruction. It can be hard to find that middle ground (I’m still working on it myself), but remember that every student is different. So try different approaches.
- Resist generalizations
In case you missed it, I’ve already made several generalizations in this article already. While that’s okay in a hypothetical and figurative sense, in the real world you need to focus on the individual aspects of every one of your students. You can’t reflect on every lesson and say “they didn’t get it” or “they seem fine.” This is a group of 30 unique minds and levels of performance. Understand that, and reflect appropriately.
- You’re not going to reach every student with every lesson
And that’s okay. Obviously, the goal is to help everybody learn, but some students will need extra support while others will learn the topic in a snap. Go about teaching the same thing in different ways to reach as many students as possible. For example, if you’re teaching figurative language, you can have some students identify examples of similes in song lyrics and others identify examples in literature. They’re both getting to the same place, but they’re taking different paths to get there. Play to their strengths. But if you notice that somebody is still struggling with the lesson, ask your cooperating teacher if there’s a way you can provide this particular student with the extra help they need.
- Beware the simple mistakes
There are some things you don’t necessarily realize are mistakes until they’ve already been set in motion. From what I’ve seen, two of the easiest mistakes for student teachers to make are not being able to translate your knowledge into “student speak” and underestimating the students. If you’ve been studying physics for four years and now find yourself in the position of having to teach a complicated topic to a group of 13-year-olds, don’t explain it to them the same way you’d explain it to a peer. Understand that your students’ brains are still developing and they don’t have the educational background you do. It’ll take some time before you can master the language of “student speak,” so hang in there. Ask for help from your cooperating teacher. On the other hand, don’t underestimate your students. They’re smarter than you think. Who knows, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised one day.
- Don’t stay angry
It’s so easy to get caught up in the frustrations that come with the day-to-day antics of the school. It’s even easier to let your bad mood carry over from one class to the next. You can’t let that happen. Take a deep breath and remember why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place. No two days will be the same. Hell, no two classes will be the same. So roll with the punches and understand that once that bell rings, you need to slap on a smile and move on. I’m certainly not saying that you’re not allowed to be mad or get frustrated (I’ve even taken a few lunch breaks to cry in my car), but you have to remember that you wanted to be a teacher for a reason. Are you really going to let one student who was having a bad day ruin that for you?
From what I’ve seen so far, teaching seems to be 70 percent what you know and 30 percent who you know. You could be the best teacher this side of the Mississippi, but if you refuse to make meaningful connections with your co-workers, you won’t be able to make the changes you want to see. However, networking doesn’t always have to be about landing your dream job. It could just be an opportunity for you to expand your resources when it comes to planning activities and lessons. Every teacher has had different experiences, so being able to capitalize on what they’ve learned might help you in the future.
- Understand there are unwritten rules of teaching
Be nice to the custodians. Be nice to secretaries. Watch what you say in the teacher’s lounge. Over-plan every lesson and have a back-up activity planned. Enter grades as soon as possible. Don’t hit the kids. Be firm but accommodating. Don’t panic.
- Remember why you’re there
Every teacher has a reason explaining why they wanted to enter the profession. Some teachers absolutely love their subject and want to share their knowledge with the world. Other teachers care deeply for their students and want to build meaningful relationships while simultaneously teaching them important information that will last a lifetime. Regardless of what your own reason may be, just remind yourself of it every time something happens. Good or bad.
- If this isn’t the life for you, that’s okay
Student teaching is a trial run and an opportunity to see how you work in a classroom setting. It isn’t a soul-binding blood-pact to the Common Core Gods. If you change your mind, you still have time and opportunities to turn your life around. Just finish your placement and move onto the next chapter of your life.
Student teaching is a journey. It’s a stupid complicated mess of confusion, lesson plans, and Crayola markers but you’ll get through it. Trust your cooperating teacher. Trust your professors. Trust yourself.