The Advantages of Working With Student Teachers
My most recent student teacher took detailed notes and posed a slew of difficult questions, including: How do you ensure that evaluations are fair when your pupils have diverse levels of literacy proficiency? How crucial is it for students to have a good time in the classroom? In what ways can you design literacy lessons that are effective for both in-person and remote students? How can you build a school library that is inclusive of all students while also catering to their various reading levels?
Being able to respond to some of them was difficult at first, but it caused me to reevaluate what I was teaching and the reasons for my instruction. Even though I’ve been teaching for 20 years, I had to take a step back and reflect on the decisions I make in the classroom—including how my teaching philosophy matches with my instructional techniques.
I realized after a period of contemplation that I had developed a tendency of reverting to tried-and-true teaching methods and familiar curriculum content to support acceptable, grade-level learning—to the point where I had become a little too relaxed. The lesson plan from the previous year had become adequate.
Her words helped me remember that my quest to improve my teaching should never be completed—and that it is essential to begin by welcoming student teachers into my heart, head, and classroom. I am grateful to her for helping me remember this.
TIPS FOR WORKING WITH A STUDENT-TEACHER
Resisting my own internalized resistance: Each year, after the school year, an email arrives in my inbox asking whether I would be interested in hosting a practicum or student teacher in September. My cursor speeds across the screen and hovers over the grey trash can. No one would be the wiser if you just clicked a button. I’m not obligated to host, nor am I expected to do so. It’s not even necessary for me to answer.
When you’re a mentor teacher, there are certain to be some awkward but predictable times. The poor start to the meeting. It all started with the unpleasant initial debriefing, which was followed by the reassuring “It’ll get better” pep talk. “I just realized you’re old enough to be my father!” exclaimed the narrator. The first outburst of stress.
However, I’ve learned to fight the initial temptation to flee because I’ve allowed myself to embrace the advantages of having a student-teacher. Teaching candidates require the same kind of attentiveness and care that I provide to my students, and the valuable moments I spend with them benefit me as well as them. Every new teacher I work with provides me with possibilities to advance my professional development. Consequently, while my cursor is hovering near the trash can, I say to myself, “Not so fast.”
Reflection: Working with student teachers has prompted me to think more thoughtfully about the components of high-quality instruction. Teaching a new teacher from the ground up forces communication about fundamental teaching skills such as voice, delivery, pacing, and transitions—and opens the door to a clearer expression of my teaching philosophies, particularly around the importance of low-stakes literacy activities, such as reading conversation journals, taking time for students to read and write in class each day, and giving students ungraded reading and writing assignments.
Keeping up with the times: As we grow older, we tend to lose track of what is current or fashionable. Then there’s the fact that over and over, student teachers, just like my middle school students, keep me up to date on a variety of things that help us build rapport, from the Netflix series they can’t get enough of to the most influential young adult YouTubers to the most recent YA fan fiction sites. It is always a learning experience when my student teachers introduce me to something new that is pertinent to developing connections with my kids.
When we are willing to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we can grow as a result of our experiences. When I take on a teaching candidate, I am forced to explore new viewpoints and different approaches to our curriculum, which allows me to see the familiar differently. In response to one of my recent student teachers revealing her love of painting, I encouraged her to incorporate elements of the visual arts into her lesson plans. So she was able to share her pastime with her kids (which was often an engaging practice), and I came away with fresh ideas for incorporating visual art into my instruction, which broadened my future reading and lesson design options in the process.
Newfound zeal: When a pre-service teacher enters the classroom, their enthusiasm and energy are contagious, and I can continue forward with newfound vigor and motivation as a result. The presence of a new face and voice in the room encourages students to participate more actively and enthusiastically, so I encourage my pre-service teachers to use me for pranks, to test new ideas on me, and to engage in friendly rivalry during small group time. This rapport is accompanied by laughing and an increase in energy.
Having more teachers in the classroom means having more time to experiment with small groups, breakout rooms, tandem teaching, and other tactics that keep students active and interested. Additionally, having an additional teacher makes me more immediately available for individual conferences or hallway pep talks at the drop of a hat whenever they are needed.
Growing the teaching field: I know that, at the end of the day, a large part of my work is to develop committed new teachers who are willing to take on the challenges of the profession. When I host student teachers, I’m developing future educators who will go out into the world and make our planet a better place to live and learn—and who will serve as role models for their kids in the same principles that I hold dear.