Tips for Student Teachers

Come into my world of questions that do not always have clear and concise answers. Come into my world where the mighty and the powerful sit side by side with the wretched and the poor. Come into my world where you are revered and honored, ridiculed and scorned. Come into my world of the enlightened and unenlightened. Come into a world of knowledge founded thousands of years ago, yet to be discovered today. Come into my world of teaching.

It is an honor and privilege to teach. It is especially rewarding to help a new prospective teacher enter into the field of teaching. Every student teacher, regardless of how well prepared through the teacher preparation program at the university, can always use some advice from veteran teachers. My simple and short list of advice is to be open minded, act like a sponge out of water and absorb as much as much as one can. I have been teaching for over 33 years and I still follow this advice; watching, learning and applying.

Student teachers often come to the classroom with little practical skills and a ton of theory eager to take over the reins in the classroom. Nothing honors me more than to be allowed to guide those students who want to join the ranks of us who teach. However, the art of teaching involves more than expounding on data and facts, passing on information or leading students in applications of new ideas; it involves the ability to connect with students so that when knowledge moves from the teacher to the learner a transformation takes place that gives the learner a new understanding of his world.

I believe there are two driving forces that people should have who want to go into teaching: 1) the ability to communicate, the ability to transfer knowledge 2) the ability to relate to children. I also tell those who endeavor to make a career out of this profession need to understand working with children though the most important part of teaching is not the only aspect of it. There are many internal and external influences that may compliment as well as interfere with teaching. My long list of advice is how to get involved without getting burned out.

First, student teachers should follow the dictates of the administration. This said I believe strongly that student teachers should rarely if ever get involved in outside activities such as coaching that would interfere with classroom performance. The student teacher should focus all of his or her energy on the classroom. Too often school administrators put young inexperienced teachers in coaching positions and almost always it is the classroom that suffers the consequences. Next, student teachers should familiarize themselves with the district curriculum, specifically the content area where he will be teaching. The student teacher then needs to familiarize himself with the daily lesson plan of the supervising teacher. I usually follow a “to, with, and by” format for working with the student teacher. First, I model a lesson, then I guide the student teacher through a process of teaching, then I have the student teacher do a lesson by him or herself. After each level we discuss the lessons, we talk about teaching strategies, what worked and what did not work. Student teachers should write down questions about daily practice, and not be afraid to ask the supervising teacher about these questions. I have found that when student teachers follow these procedures they are able to take over more and more of the classroom responsibilities at a faster pace.

Another aspect of teaching is the daily routine that crops up in the classroom. While teaching is the core part of every classroom it is the side issues that can make the teaching frustrating. Little things like taking attendance, taking lunch money or collecting money for some fundraiser most veteran teachers take in stride, but it can be overwhelming for student teachers. Setting a routine pattern not only helps the student teacher but helps the students and can often alleviate discipline problems.

Classroom discipline is often seen as the most challenging part of teaching for seasoned teachers, let alone student teachers. Volumes of books have been written on the subject. Classroom discipline or lack of is probably the number one reason for burn out for most teachers. My quick advice to any student teacher is to make sure he always knows who is in control. When I give full reign of the classroom to my student teachers I tell them don’t be afraid to use the administration for the most unruly student, but don’t over use it either. Most principals I have worked with are very cooperative in helping student teachers with discipline in the classroom. Again any disciplinary action taken by the student teacher should be discussed in the debriefings with the supervising teacher.

Still another part of student teaching is having the opportunity to work with parents. Too often student teachers end up having no contact with parents and those that do are limited to an open house. I believe every student teacher should have some contact with parents. I recommend student teachers contact parents by letter letting the parents know they will be teaching under the supervision of the supervising teacher, and is looking forward to working with their child. A side advice to supervising teachers is never giving student teachers more responsibilities than manageable, especially when dealing with parents. Parent teacher conferences are an ideal opportunity for student teachers to meet and work with parents.

Still, another part of teaching student teachers must adjust to, is working with other staff. This may include anything from district meetings, to staff meetings, to grade level meetings, to social committees. Usually student teachers shadow the supervising teachers but not always. Good advice to student teachers is to ask questions about any meeting they do not understand or would like to know more about.

Finally, what about those outside influences that can play havoc on the student teacher’s psychic. There are many outside influences that can influence a student teacher’s day to day performance. Some have more impact than others. I am referring to the impact of negative attitude toward our educational system. Even in the buildings we teach we have negative attitudes about teaching. As sad as this may sound, some teachers belittle the profession and the students so much they bring a disgrace to teaching. It is not always the oldest, most senior teacher who is guilty of such practice. I was given this advice as a first year teacher; when outside the school; whenever you can, surround yourself with people of like mind, align yourself with forward, positive thinking people. It is advice I keep passing on. Last, I tell student teachers to keep a positive attitude about teaching and the rewards will come back a thousand fold.