Surviving Student Teaching – A Guide for Up and Coming Teachers

For many college students embarking upon that last leg of their teacher education programs, student teaching is both a daunting and exciting prospect. Finally, after 4 years of sitting through lectures, theories, paper writing and mock lesson planning, it’s your turn to be up in front of a class. While it is a very exciting time in your education, there are several things that are truly necessary to understand as you undergo these last preparation months before your career as a teacher begins. Hopefully, these tips will help you succeed in your student teacher placement, and teach some valuable lessons about professionalism.

Before you set foot in the classroom�
1) This may sound harshâÂ?¦but college is quite possibly the most idealistic phase of your life. Enjoy the rosy glow that’s cast over your education while you can, because as soon as you set foot in a real classroom, it will never be the same again! College classrooms sit high up in an ivory tower, only remotely connected to actual K-12 classrooms far below. What does this mean? It means that a lot of what you have learned in college is pure and simple theory. You learn about educational foundations (history, psychology, theory, content matter), but are taught very little about flexibility, difficulty in the classroom, and professionalism. That lesson plan that you wrote for your class may look magnificent on paper, but it becomes a whole other animal when you go to deliver it to a classroom of kids. Just remember that it is absolutely NOT necessary to apply verbatim what you have been taught in college to what you practice in the classroom. Theory and practice are two completely different things.

2) Find out all you can about your cooperating teacher, the school you will be assigned to and their mission/vision statement, any programs that your subject area uses to promote student learning, and the demographic of students that you will be teaching. The more informed you are about all these things, the more relaxed you will be on your first day. Knowledge is power! For information on specific school demographics, go to http://www.nces.ed.gov for school survey information and “report cards” that show a school’s standardized test scores and nationwide ranking.

3) Be aware of the dress code, and if you’re not sure of what it entails, be sure to dress as neutrally as possible on the first day. Day 1 is not the best time to try that new pair of bright pink fishnets or that tie with the shrunken head pattern on it. Although it may feel slightly like you’re robbing yourself of your individuality, dress to blend for at least the first few days until you get a feel for what your school is like. Although you may want to show your students that you are young and way more hip than their regular teacher, you are first and foremost a professional. You’ll have plenty of time to express your individuality and personality in your lesson delivery. Try to refrain from wearing anything that is too short, too tight, too low cut, or too casual. You are presenting yourself as a young professional. Student teaching not only gives you that last grade you need on your transcript to graduate, but it can also lead to job interviews.

When you begin student teaching�.
1) The #1 sin of student teachers is a know-it-all attitude. This type of attitude will have teachers rolling their eyes, and laughing at you behind your backâÂ?¦or in front of you if they’re bold! The last thing a seasoned teacher (and chances are, they are well experienced to even have a student teacher to begin with) wants to deal with is a fresh-out-of-college-I-know-everything-so-don’t-even-try-to-tell-me sort of attitude. Remember that you are a STUDENT teacher, if you already knew everything, your college wouldn’t be making you do this! When your cooperating teacher talks, don’t roll your eyes. Just listen. Maintain eye contact, and smile. Your cooperating teacher is a very wrong person to make enemies with, as they often hold your grade in the palm of their hand. This is the time to humble yourself, and if you don’t know how to do so, you need to find out quickly. Even if your teacher is 90 years old, has lost touch with reality, or is in some way making you question how they got this far in educationâÂ?¦smile and be cooperative. Student teaching is temporary, and you won’t have to suffer for long.

2) Often, cooperating teachers want you to simply deliver the information that they have designed for you. Not everyone is lucky to have a cooperating teacher that allows them to teach their own lessons. This is something to be very respectful of. It is still THEIR classroom, the students belong to them. If this is a concept that is difficult to bare, grit your teeth and understand this; although you have to abide by their rules for now, you won’t have to do so with your own class when you begin your career. Again, this is temporary!

3) So what do you do if you’re not getting the support you need from your cooperating teacher? Your first step should be to speak with the college professor or advisor that is running the student teacher program at your college or university. They are the best resource for handling problems and resolving disputes. The worst thing you can do is to seek out the help of your cooperating teacher’s colleagues. Your cooperating teacher may look at this as though you and their colleague are undermining their authority, and that’s the last thing you want. If another teacher offers you help, accept it within reason, but make sure you are also getting the support you need.

4) Always be professional. This means no gossiping about students, teachers, or administrators. No dishing on your drunken night out with your friends. No discussions of a sexual or inappropriate nature with anyone at school. You are a guest in the school you have been assigned to, and this sort of behavior will cause you to wear out your welcome very quickly.

5) Remember, regardless of the grade level you are teaching, kids can sense tension, exhaustion, illness, irritation, a hangover, a lack of interest, and worstâÂ?¦they can tell if you’re unprepared. Overplan, trust me! Students are a bit like sharks that can smell blood in the water – they’re very intuitive. Remember that being a teacher is a lot like acting. The spotlight is always on you, you’re always being watched. In the interest of that, it’s best to make sure you’ve always got your game face on, and that you do not do or say anything that you wouldn’t want a student to hear whilst on school grounds.

6) Speaking of students, this tip is immensely important; refrain from making personal connections with your students that could be construed as fraternization, or as inappropriate overtures. Many schools have policies on this, and it’s because it is so very important to follow. For those of you entering an assignment in a secondary school (9-12), the age difference between you and the students may seem very small. However, regardless of age, you are still the teacher and they are the student. This is where professionalism, a healthy dose of common sense, and restraint comes in. Do not socialize with students outside of school, do not drive them places, do not tell them personal information about yourself, do not give them your phone number, address, or e-mail, and most importantly, do NOT make physical contact with them. We’ve all seen the horror stories on the news about teachers behaving inappropriately with their students, so it’s a good idea ahead of time to outline for yourself what is appropriate behavior. Teaching is an intimate activity, and it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the lives of your students. This is not to say that you cannot be approachable or friendly, but always remember to enforce the boundaries.

5) Flexibility is key! As mentioned in #1 of “Before you set foot in the classroom”, that lesson you worked so hard to draft may end up falling flat when delivered. Do not be discouraged! It happens more than you think, even to seasoned veterans. Education is a process of trial and error. Many teachers never know if something will work until they try it out on their kids. Along with this, remember that no two classes are alike. Think of them as snowflakes. Let’s say that you’re teaching four sections of the same class. What may work well in one class, may be disastrous in the other two, and work mediocre in the last one. While the lesson itself may be good, the delivery can be adjusted depending on the students. Some classes have a high population of learning disabled students, so the pace of delivery needs to be modified. Other classes may have students with a rap sheet of discipline problems, so classroom management strategies will need to be strictly enforced. Time of day, and day of the week may also play a factor in the success of a lesson. Classes after lunch may be sleepy, while those right before recess are rambunctious. Fridays are chaos while Mondays no one is awake. When you know what to expect, you can tailor your delivery around these things.

6) Student teaching is going to be exhausting. Even if you’re one of those students who works four jobs and studies like crazy, it’s a shock just how much teaching can wear you out. During this time when your body and mind are adjusting to the schedule and responsibilities, make sure to take good care of yourself. Eat. Sleep. Drink LOTS of water. Make time for friends to enjoy yourself. The world won’t fall apart if you make time for your favorite TV show or a night out with your friends, as long as you don’t totally blow off your responsibilities. The students can tell when you’re weary or ill at ease, so making sure that you’re happy is key.

7) Keep a journal. You’ll be amazed at the end of this experience what you have learned and how much you will change as a student, and educator, and a person.

With this advice, I wish you the very best of luck. Our country is sorely in need of good educators, and if you still want to teach after all this, you’ll be a welcomed addition to our family of teachers!

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