by Rebecca Takacs, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Student teaching is a time for preservice educators to test his or her teaching skills, subject knowledge, and gain insight on how grade levels differ and what grade they feel suits them best. This is the final step for teaching candidates before they are sent into a classroom of their own. All the classes and endless amount of hours creating practice lesson plans are put into fruition. Student teaching comes with wonderful experiences; however, one should expect that what can go wrong just may go wrong, and it is what that preservice educator does next that matters the most.
I have been given the opportunity to have two placements for student teaching. As my first placement comes to an end, I will reflect on it and give you some advice from my experience. Before I go into the tips, let me tell you about my placement. I was placed into a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade self-contained Learning and/or Language Disabilities (LLD) class in a middle school. All my students had a wide range of disabilities, and at times, it was difficult. After spending eight weeks with them, I have determined six tips that can be beneficial to all student teachers, not just the ones who find themselves in similar situation as my own.
- Take into account your students’ voice. My cooperating teacher had the ability to teach across three different grade levels for social studies and science. My students were different, as are all students in the public school system. I went into my student teaching thinking about my students, so I asked them what they wanted to learn about and how I could make it engaging for them. Being a caring teacher means that you take into account what your students want to learn about. During my student teaching, I wanted to make sure my students had a voice in the classroom, so the students researched an animal of their choice and looked at the different aspects of an ecosystem. In my final days, the students completed a
diorama to show their learning. The diorama held the same value in regards to learning as a test would. I knew that my students could not sit and take a test, so I created a project for them to do instead. They were engaged and all demonstrated what they learned about from researching different ecosystems. Plus, it was something they were interested in doing, which made them invested.
- Take into account the environment students come from. Before stepping into your placement, take into account where your students come form. My students come from very different lives, such as divorced families or being raised by grandparents. Where they come from determines how they will learn, as a student’s life and possible baggage doesn’t get left at the door. For example, one of my students couldn’t focus on our lesson and didn’t want to participate because he was hungry, so I gave him my banana to help him focus on the task. I sacrificed a piece of my lunch so my student could succeed for the day. After this, I always packed more for lunch than I would eat to ensure that if a student needed something to eat, I could give it to him or her. You may be a student’s only smile, kind word, or resource center, so always consider what your students may be handling outside of the classroom and how you can help.
- Take time to plan. Lesson planning can be extremely stressful, especially if, like me, you work a weekend job, have two classes during the week, and go to placement during the weekdays. So, when and how do you make time to plan? Make a schedule. Life can be busy, so in your schedule, create times to plan – and relax! No one likes a tired and stressful teacher.
- Do not get discouraged from a poor review. Every student teacher dreads his or her supervisor’s visits. Nothing is more discouraging than receiving low scores on whichever system the supervisor uses, whether that means seeing ones and twos on an evaluation or not proficient. But do not get discouraged by these evaluations! Student teaching is a time to grow and learn. Do not be afraid to ask questions, get constructive feedback, or examine your lesson with a more critical eye (it is also your class grade after all). Expect to grow from your first observation to your last. Everyone has to start somewhere.
- Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Never be afraid of your supervisor or your cooperating teacher. If you are having trouble with something, like planning or classroom management, ask your supervisor or cooperating teacher for help because that is exactly why they are there – to guide you. You are not a seasoned, veteran teacher, so ask for help (they won’t bite).
- Breathe. The last thing is to just breathe. Relax. Everything is going to be fine. You are going to survive, even when you feel like a lesson completely flopped (no one is going to die from a bad lesson, and students aren’t going to eat you alive). Close your eyes, and just breathe. Life may seem to be going a million miles a minute, especially during student teaching, but you must make an effort to slow yourself down every once in a while. Always remember to breathe because in this growth process, there is nothing to be nervous about. You got this. Remember: You were born for this.
With that, I leave you. I wish someone gave me these tips for when I started, but I learned this from my cooperating teacher. Of course, there are so many more things to talk about, like how you will get attached to your students and miss them when you leave the classroom. Just remember this is a tough but rewarding process for everyone, but you were born for this. So, go and shape the minds of the future president, doctors, nurses, lawyers, poets, scientists, artists, or even future teachers.