Tips for Student Teachers

As a student teacher you are leaving the casual focus of being a student on campus, to being the instructor in a professional setting. As an instructor you will project professional competence through your dress, demeanor, proficiency in handling instruction, and through the way you handle relationships with the faculty, peers, students and their families. Think of a teacher role model in your own school experience whose professionalism you admired, and who helped you grow as a student. While student teaching is not a paying position, your standards should be those of one who is on the payroll. Often times student teachers who show a high standard of professionalism will have made connections that will translate into job offers upon graduation and great references at the very least.

While dress in a school system is somewhat casual compared to other professional careers, it is still important to dress appropriately. Upper level grades should be met with dressy casual attire. While suits and sports coats are not necessary, nice slacks, pressed shirt and a tie, for men, would be expected unless you are teaching a vocational or physical education program that would require clothes respective of the activities involved. For women, if dresses and skirts are worn, they should be modest in length and fit. In lower grades, dressy casual is still in good taste, but should allow freedom of movement in order to be ready for lessons that may include floor level activities. Jeans are only appropriate on designated days with a school logo T-shirt, and should not be low rise, faded, or ripped. Save those for date night or home. Blouses should be modest in neckline and sleeves, as well as in fabric. Shoes should be worn with comfort, safety, and good taste in mind. Flip flops are not professional wear. High narrow heels are a hazard when in a fire drill and in guiding students up and down staircases. Check the student code of conduct for your district to make sure your dress is in accordance with expectations for students and then dress above the code. For example, shorts are only appropriate for outdoor activities and should be within code length. Dressy “shorts” are not advised at this juncture. Leggings are not appropriate with short dresses or tops when you are the instructor.

Faculty members are expected to be on campus on time and be there for the full day. On the days you need to be absent or leave early due to on-campus classes, make sure your supervising teacher knows in advance. If you are ill, call the supervising teacher and the school office to let them know as soon as you realize you will need to be out. These should be rare occasions. Supervising teachers plan for your presence and the lessons for the day will need to be adjusted if you are going to be absent.

Keep lesson plans updated and find out how the school administrator expects them to be formatted. Most districts require you to cite curricular standards, objectives of a lesson, materials to be used, and method of instruction. Many now expect a brief summary of this posted in the classroom and shared with students so they may focus on the goal of the lesson. You must schedule time to work with your supervising teacher as you plan, execute and try to improve lessons. Most schools also require grade level teams to work as Professional Learning Communities. This means frequent team meetings to discuss data, student progress, and to share instructional strategies to help address and diversify instruction to meet all student needs. You should expect to participate in these meetings at least as an observer, if not actively involved in the discussions.

Student progress and concerns are subject to rules of privacy. Discussion outside of professional sharing for the purpose of improving instruction is prohibited. Posting of student work or pictures is subject to parent signature on a model release, especially if you post to a website. Discussions should be held away from common areas particularly when another parent or person outside of the student’s academic team may over hear the discussion. This also applies when students have altercations. Parents may not be given the other student’s name without permission or administrative oversight. 

When working with a challenging instructional moment, or a challenging student, keep your demeanor calm and modulate your voice to be firm without being strident or using sarcasm. Use school wide procedures and class rules to guide discipline. Even students with challenging behaviors respond best to your enthusiasm for and mastery of what is being taught, your attention to and knowledge of them as individual students, and calm consistent use of procedures with predictable consequences. Respect is the key in working with students, families and staff members. As the professional, you are held to a higher standard and adhering to that standard will most often bring about reciprocal respectful relationships toward you.

Students need teachers, not adult buddies. It is important that you are friendly in a professional manner. Your personal life situation is not an area to share unless it directly relates to what is being taught and does not provide too much information to students about private matters. The reverse is also true, in that a student’s personal, private life is not for you to become involved in outside of what is necessary to understand the needs of the student as it affects daily academic interaction. You do not give dating advice. You may refer a student to the classroom teacher, who may refer the student to a campus counselor or administrator if a personal concern needs attention. As a temporary instructor in the classroom, empathy is helpful in a professional sense, but your involvement will be to let those who are going to be there after you leave know of any issues that need to be addressed. However, have your supervising teacher share with you the laws concerning reporting of suspected abuse. If a student confides in you concerning a situation that may be abusive, there are specific reporting procedures and obligations you may need to follow. 

Be aware that your personal faith is private and not legally allowed in a public school instructional situation. Respect for the beliefs of your students, and their families, is a legal obligation. If a parent tells you a student may not participate in certain classroom activities you may need to find alternate activities, discussing the alternate with the family. As a student teacher, you may want your supervising teacher to have this discussion. If this means a student is not allowed to participate in a holiday party, you will be on unstable ground if you save a little neutral party favor for the child without consulting with the parent.

You may be included in parent conferences, particularly when there are discussions about academic areas that you have been responsible for teaching. Your role at this point should be to allow the classroom teacher to take the lead. If you are asked to participate more actively, be prepared with data and information that will help the parent understand how the student is performing. Make sure strengths as well as challenges are shared and that you have positive suggestions to offer for home practice or school adjustments that you will help activate. These should be discussed with the supervising teacher prior to the meeting. If a strategy is suggested for classroom accommodation the supervising teacher will be responsible for implementation after your practicum is completed.

When working with staff members this is your opportunity to learn how to apply what has been in theory and to try out creative strategies of your own. A positive and friendly relationship with staff members will allow you to access valuable resources in the school. If you have gleaned an idea from another teacher to use with your students, asking permission, and then giving credit for the great idea to the teacher you got it from, will bring about a supportive and sharing rapport.

Be cautious in your critique of your supervising teacher. Observe interactions in lessons for the nuances that make it work. So often in the observation phase of the practicum the seasoned teacher makes it look so easy, discipline just seems to happen, and the lesson seems almost too simplistic. And then when that class is handed over to the student with their own creative plans in play things seem to fall apart. Be open to suggestions about what could have made it work.

If you and your supervising teacher are not able to communicate in a way that will allow you to have a successful experience, speak to your university level adviser. The adviser may be able to have conversations with the teacher that will help clarify concerns, or may be able to find a more compatible situation. It is inadvisable to carry your complaint to fellow student teachers, especially if they are at the same school.

Passion for helping students meet their potential, and find success in high stakes testing curriculum should help you seek out the professional and productive tenor that will help you grow into a very big role, that of teacher.