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Student teaching

Student Teaching Tips: 8 Things I Wish I Knew As A Student Teacher

Student teaching: an exciting, daunting, overwhelming and thrilling experience. It’s the first time you step back into the classroom on the other side of the desk and realize that the view is rather different from here. Student teaching wasn’t all that long ago for me, and in the last few years, as I have sat at the back of the classroom and observed other student teachers, I have thought about the experience a lot. These are the eight things I believe all student teachers should know.

Slide11. We were all student teachers once.
Sadly, you will encounter many teachers who seem to have forgotten this fact. They will be impatient with you. They won’t take the time to teach you (ironic, isn’t it?). They may be dismissive and patronizing. I am sorry about this, and I’m afraid you will just have to push through it, understand that it is not personal and search out the teachers who will take the time to mentor you. But more than that: learn from it. When you have been teaching for twenty years and a student teacher walks into your class, remember what it feels like, be patient and have a little grace for them.

2. All the good teachers cry at least once in their careers.
Ok, maybe not all. But I sure know a good number of incredible teachers who have cried after a class or two – myself included. It is nothing to be ashamed of: it’s not weakness; doesn’t make you less of a teacher; doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for the classroom. Often it means just the opposite: it shows that you care; it means that you have passion; it indicates that you are learning (which can be a painful experience). Allow yourself to have a good cry sometimes. Eat a pint of ice-cream. Go to the gym. Shrug it off. Learn from the experience and then walk back into the classroom and try again.

3. Try not to be too critical of the teachers you are observing.
When I was a student teacher I thought I knew it all. I believed that every one of the lessons I taught was perfect, original and quite brilliant (yes, that’s every one of the 3 or 4 per week). So when I sat and observed the class teacher hand out old notes, teach an ‘average’ lesson, or make a mistake or two, I would smile smugly and silently judge him/her. Now I cringe at who I was then. Please don’t be me. I now teach thirty lessons a week and know that not every one of them can be dazzling. I also know that it can be intimidating being observed by a bright young student teacher (especially one you know is silently judging you).

4. Think about your appearance.
You want to look good and make an impression. I get that. But don’t look too good. If you are teaching primary school, remember to wear practical clothing; something which you won’t mind having stains on. If you are teaching high school, wear ‘appropriate’ clothing. Look professional but be comfortable. Ladies, remember that you will be bending down occasionally so choose your tops (and your skirts) wisely. Gents, never underestimate the power of good shoes and the power they have to indicate authority as you walk commandingly down the corridor.

5. Teachers are territorial and habitual creatures; try not to ruffle feathers.
I guarantee that no-matter which school you are in, there will be certain un-spoken rules of the staffroom. Don’t use just any mug. Observe where people sit and find somewhere ‘neutral’. Don’t monopolize the computers and/or photocopiers. Imagine you are an anthropologist in unfamiliar territory: observe and try to fit in without upsetting the gentle eco-system of your surroundings.

6. Don’t try to be cool, but don’t be mean for the sake of it.
Surely you’ve heard these pieces of ‘wisdom’: ‘You are not their friend.’ ‘Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen.’ ‘Be strict from day one.’ ‘Show ‘em who’s boss.’ – I don’t agree. Yes, set boundaries and be firm, and no, you are never going to be ‘cool’ so don’t even try. But unkindness for the sake of asserting power is really not necessary. Especially not with teenagers. They will see right through it. Rather, show them respect and earn theirs. Confidence, authenticity and self-assurance will earn you more respect than a threatening stick, a tight bun and a frown.

7. Be prepared to pay your dues.
You may have to do copious amounts of photocopying. You might have to organize files. More than likely, you will be asked to do certain teachers’ recess duties for them. Perhaps you will even be asked to mark piles of assignments. The fact is, these are all part of being a teacher – rather than moan about it – see it as a learning experience. Know that you are actually taking a huge load off an overworked teacher, and trust that really, it only gets better from here. One day you will be grateful for the student teacher who does those jobs for you.

8. Hold on to you ideals.
Hopefully in your training and career, you will come across brilliant, passionate and exciting teachers. But chances are, you will also come across the obdurate, negative and pessimistic. Unfortunately, as teaching can be all-consuming and exhausting, it is easier than you realize to become the latter. Trust me. Right now, at the start of your career you are naïvely idealistic – that is not a bad thing. It is wonderful. Hold on to that passion and optimism, find others who are equally ardent, embrace change and be open to learning. If you manage this, you will safeguard against pessimism and disillusionment, and you will be a more engaging teacher for it.

11 thoughts on “Student Teaching Tips: 8 Things I Wish I Knew As A Student Teacher

  1. Hi Stacey! Thank you for this post. I truly enjoyed reading it. I will be student teaching in August and am a bit nervous. Thank you for your insights and truthfulness!

  2. Stacey, this post is so incredibly true! And I think it also goes for new teachers (like myself). I have only taught for 6 months and it was a struggle, and it is hard to reach out and ask for help when you feel like you should know this by now, I mean I just did a year of school learning how to do this, shouldn’t be too hard “rolling eyes”. I like how you put it out there so openly that it is going to be hard and embrace that. Thanks!

    1. I am so pleased that you found this post truthful and helpful! Unfortunately, as wonderful as any teacher training course may be, you only really start learning on the job. But take heart and hang in there – it really does get easier! 🙂

  3. As a new CT I think this is a good reminder on how to effectively mentor new teachers. It is easy to complain and a part of it is venting to coworkers but it IS contagious and the optimism and excitement is necessary not only to get you through the initial transition but for innovation and new teachers really do give life to us old teachers. Excitement and optimism is also contagious! My student teachers have come in with a sense that they already know what they are doing so I try to give them leeway but I think we can all benefit from feedback so I will increase that. Thank you for the tips.

    1. Could not agree with you more! I have also found myself moaning about student teachers to coworkers, and it really isn’t fair or helpful. We must demonstrate passion and positivity for them. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Hello Stacey,
    I am going for my student teaching for this coming fall and I am really excited looking forward to have a passionate mentor. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Absolutely agree with all of these! I student taught last spring semester, and I’m now a third of the way through my first year of teaching in a middle school. Student teaching was the most wonderful and simultaneously awful experience of my life 🙂 Which leads me to two extra thoughts: student teaching is supposed to be stressful! You’re being thrown so many different tasks and ideals and duties that it’s always going to be overwhelming, no matter how prepared or organized or well-educated you are. That being said, even with how stressful my first year of teaching has been so far, it’s nowhere near as stressful as my one semester of student teaching. If you can make it through that last semester of craziness, you can survive anything!

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