Whenever I’ve gone to professional development sessions or workshops, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to present something of my own, but I never really knew what I’d present on. I think I’m a good teacher, but I don’t think I’m the be-all-end-all either; and until I get the Flipped model down, I don’t think I’m anywhere near ready to start teaching people about that.
But a few weeks ago, I got an email from the UNC Charlotte Teaching Fellows alumni board – they were looking for proposals for presentations at the annual Senior Symposium, a half-day seminar designed to help senior Fellows transition from teacher education to actually going into the classroom. It’s experiences like those that make me immensely sad that the Teaching Fellows program is dying a slow death at the hands of the North Carolina General Assembly. Plenty of amazing teachers emerge from college without the Teaching Fellows experience, of course, but Fellows get a comprehensive, singularly unique teacher training experience that virtually guarantees that its graduates will have the cutting-edge skills needed in today’s evolving classrooms.
But I digress. Anyway, as I perused the email, I noticed that among the suggested presentation topics was “student teaching experiences.”
Laura and me back in 2004. Some cooperating teachers may not want to hang out after hours. Some, however, will go with you to Oktoberfest.
If I do say so myself, I had one hell of a student teaching experience. I worked with Laura Huffman, a stellar cooperating teacher, branched out and taught other classes too, took on some public address announcing duties, and coached quiz bowl. And then I got hired at the same school right after graduating – I’d like to think it was because I was such a stellar classroom teacher, but I know that all I did for the school played a significant role. So while I might not feel comfortable teaching content-related pedagogy and strategies to other teachers, student teaching is my wheelhouse.
My presentation had a simple thesis; student teaching is, in no particular order, an audition and a laboratory. As another presenter said today, student teaching is also one of the longest job interviews on the planet. I won’t bore you with every detail of what I said, although you’re more than welcome to download the PowerPoint, but here are a few of my top pointers for anyone getting ready to begin their student teaching experience.
1. Meet everyone. Depending on how big the school is, this may not be practical to do in the first few weeks, but at the very least, meet three groups of people. First, meet the administrators and learn what their duties are so you’ll know who to go see for certain scenarios; secondly, make friends with the office staff, because they run the joint; and finally, the custodians and facilities staff, whom you may desperately need if some calamity befalls your classroom.
2. Push to be innovative. Some cooperating teachers are set in their ways, but most of them would love to see bright young teachers try some new things. I never had a student teacher at Robinson, but over the years I stole several ideas for lessons and activities that student teachers had tried in other history classes. And sort of along those lines…
3. Don’t be afraid to fail. I did a few things in the classroom during student teaching that, looking back, make me cringe. Some of it pertains to lessons that fell spectacularly flat, but a lot of it was related to classroom management. Managing a classroom is one of those things that comes naturally to only a select few teachers; the rest of us have to work our asses off at it. I still struggle mightily with it, and so will nearly every student teacher, but the best path to improving is observing and getting pointers from more experienced educators who have gotten the finer points of it down. There’s no better learning experience than something that didn’t work, and every student teacher will do something that doesn’t.
4. Branch out. My most valuable experience during student teaching happened completely by chance. During my planning period one day, the history department chair/AP U.S. History teacher came into my room in a panic; she had a family emergency and had to leave immediately. No subs were available, so she asked me if I could cover her APUSH class for the day. I had been teaching general freshman World History, so I was naturally pretty intimidated at the thought of teaching some of the school’s brightest kids, but at the same time I was always more interested in U.S. history so I accepted the challenge. In the days after I covered the class, quite a few of the students in the AP class tracked me down to tell me what a great job I did, with a few saying that they wished I taught the class all the time. After that, I was invited back to teach AP U.S. History several times, and I also assisted with the exam review. The APUSH teacher then left to join the Principal Fellows program, and I was chosen to replace her. Without that experience, I don’t think I ever would’ve been hired to teach APUSH. And the rest, they say, is history. See what I did there?
5. Make yourself indispensable. At the end of student teaching, I told the dozen or so attendees to my little session, your end goal should be to make everyone in the school say to themselves, “Man, we’re really gonna miss that person.” There’s plenty of ways to make sure that happens: volunteering for extra duties like athletic event supervision, helping coach a team or advise a club, chaperone a dance (even though they’re gross), and make your presence known whenever you can. Student teaching supervisors would probably advise against taking on so much stuff; while the classroom experience and all that goes with it is obviously the most important aspect of student teaching, developing additional school-related skills makes you a much more attractive candidate. The principal might not be able to hire you, but they’ll give you a damn good reference for another school, and might even try to hire you back later.
Student teaching was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, but it was immensely rewarding. I learned so much, met some great students and colleagues, and found the place where I continued to cultivate my craft for the next five years. I wouldn’t have traded my experience for anything, and I hope that the Fellows I addressed today will have an experience as rewarding as mine was.
Today’s symposium also gave me a great opportunity to spread the Raptor gospel. I was pretty popular because I was able to virtually guarantee that we’ll have openings at RTHS next year since we’ll be adding over a hundred new students. So, I told a couple of them over lunch, they need to go have a great student teaching experience, get molded into awesome young teachers, and then come see us up in the Triangle.
HOMEWORK… Does anyone else have any pointers for student teachers that I may have missed? Feel free to share ’em in the contents below!