25 Things I Learned From Student Teaching

It ended about a month ago, but everything about it is resonating in my head. The students, the teachers, the parents, the failed lessons, the joyous lessons, and the lessons I learned. As I’m about to face countless interviews (mock and real), I’m going to have to answer the questions that seem so obviously answerable to me, but for some reason are the hardest to articulate in a neat little response: “What’s your philosophy of education?” “Tell me about yourself.” “What’s your biggest strength? Weakness?”

“Why do you want to be a teacher?”  

I’m not so sure I can safely say my current answers to those questions are concise, understandable, or outstanding, but this list should get me started.

What I Learned During Student Teaching

1. Gossiping and complaining can waste a lot of time

I’m not a gossiper by nature, and I don’t really tolerate it well. I learned by observation that there really is no point in complaining to other teachers  about administrators or parents because it’s not like that will solve the problem anyway. 

2. Make the rubric (or at least draft it) before you give the assignment

Spontaneity has its place, and it is not on something that your students will be assessed. There’s nothing more embarrassing than grading them on components you didn’t even teach…

3. Be more assertive about obtaining resources

Make friends with librarians and secretaries. They are the ones who have all the connections. 

4. Don’t tell your kids you don’t care if they fail

Because you really do care anyway, so don’t try to act hardcore. I once got upset with students who were blatantly ignoring everything I was asking them to do, so I hit them with the reality that they are the only ones responsible for their grades (which is pretty true). But then I said that I didn’t care if they failed, and they got very defensive and immediately shut down. Of course I explained that I didn’t mean it, but that I actually want them to succeed and they’re pulling against that desire. Regardless of the apology, I still said it and I still think it stung.

5. Establish your rule system and be consistent

This, above many others, is key. If you don’t have good classroom management you can forget about successful lessons. A justified set of rules really does set the tone of the classroom, and it works even better if you let your students be a part of the rule-making process. Kids need just enough structure so that they feel comfortable and can anticipate how the class will run every day. Just don’t let ’em get too comfortable, or they will find ways around the rules. 

6. Don’t get mad too quickly, otherwise you could always be mad and then you have no dynamics to work with.

The same goes for voice volume. This way when you’re upset, your students know you’re upset and will hopefully respond. 

7. Read even though you’re incredibly busy (and read books you want to read or that your kids recommend to you).

8. Try to write with your students while they do in-class writes (even if you feel like you need to “monitor”).

This is something we were taught in methods but is incredibly difficult to do. It’s the ideal, but when you are trying to make sure your students are not doing other homework or texting or sleeping, it’s rough. When you do get to write with your students, it’s a great experience. I hope to work on that in the future. 

9. Enter grades into a paper grade book and an electronic one

Rookie mistake. I actually only had an electronic one at OLOG, and I ended up deleting ENTIRE ROWS on Excel, obliterating like ten students’ grades. Ooooops. 

10. Be consistent with how you score all assignments

...duh. 

11. Plan the heck out of every lesson. Over-plan and be flexible. 

Something is bound to go slightly awry the first time you’re teaching a certain lesson. Just plan for failure, and it all works out! 

12. Know as much and more about what you make your kids read and write. Sometimes they’ll still outsmart you, but do your best. 

I was lucky if I was a step ahead of the kids, if ever. Completely embarrassing, but honestly I’m not going to teach something I haven’t even READ when I have my own classroom. That’s what makes student teaching so weird. You are going to be a total dumbo regardless of how widely you’ve read—chances are you haven’t read everything your cooperating has in the syllabus for the class. 

13. If you do not have energy that day or are in a bad mood, utilize caffeine. Your lesson can’t afford you being a sloth. 

I’m not endorsing drug dependency, but I understand that coffee works. It does. And some days, you just need it. 

14. Try to remember at least one detail (whether it be silly, smart, funny, or cool) about every student, and bring it up once in a while. It will make them feel respected and special. 

I do a little writing activity every time I’m teaching a new group of kids (and I had many in my particular experience—three different teachers with different bunches of kids! Generally you just have one cooperating’s class load). So, to get to know them I asked them to write me a letter about themselves. It was my favorite to read. I love getting to know them through their writing, and it gives you a window into things they may not be as apt to talk about in class. 

15. Make an effort to get to know your co-workers. 

In Loveland this was hard because the teachers keep to themselves, for the most part. At OLOG, we were all in the same room and it was hard to not get T.MI. I had trouble integrating myself with the other teachers, because we really were so different. Being introverted, I had trouble conversing outside of small talk, which I abhor. If I could go back, I’d put myself out there and be more outgoing. 

16. Don’t get too freaked out if you feel like the class isn’t rigorous enough, or if you don’t think the students are where they should be academically.

You can only meet them at where they are, then go from there. However, you need to know how to differentiate if you’re going to do that. Do your best to pre-assess each student. Keep a profile of them. Depending on how many you have, this could be a challenge. If you have a manila folder with the assessments and stats about the student, it could be helpful to track their progress. You could keep notes in there and everything.

17. Someone is ALWAYS watching what you’re doing (and not doing). 

Era of accountability, folks. Big brother’s watching. 

18. Take some time in the mornings to remember why you’re there, because many times you’ll end the day forgetting just that.

19. Find your grading limit where you can respond effectively to papers and not just begin to let your tiredness and madness affect the grading. Make sure to budget your time so you can also return the papers in an orderly fashion. 

There is a time where your head will hit the table at 12:30 a.m., right smack in the middle of little Johnny’s less than engaging writing that you’ve seen in about 20 other very similar essays, and you just have to call it quits. Otherwise, you’ll take it out on little Johnny, who should not have to bear the weight of 20 others. 

20. If you show students that you’re working just as hard as they are, they tend to reciprocate with hard work. Not all of them, but many do.

21. Seating charts work! Be very in-tune with how location in the classroom affects student learning. Mixing it up every once in a while forces students to work out of their comfort zone. 

Muahahahahaha. Comfort be gone!

22. Keep everything! Keep books from undergrad, keep all documents, somehow organize all your lessons and materials in one place.

23. Don’t be afraid of parents. If you’re doing your job and you have the backing of your principal, then they do not have the last word. 

24. Don’t be afraid to give a kid a bad grade.

Especially if you like him/her. It can be easy to feel bad about giving someone you like a bad grade, but you’re probably doing them a favor. Deserved bad grades motivate kids to work harder (that is, if you have honors students like I did).

25. Develop a good sense of wait-time.

For those of you outside of the educational realm, wait-time is the time between when you ask a question and when you get an answer. Awkward silences are difficult to deal with, but once you get past the awkwardness, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. The silent sound of students squirming in their seats trying to think of the answer so they can break that silence is delicious. 

yum.

 

That is not a full list. There are many more, but I think this hits the big ones.

What a journey, right? An exhilarating, difficult, awesome journey.

-S.G.


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