July 27, 2015

What I Learned From Student Teaching

This post is going to be a bit different from anything else I've written on my blog. This is going to be a long one, and if educational/teaching posts aren't your thing than check back here later in the week for one of my regular beauty/lifestyle related posts. I was hand-delivering resumes to schools today, and felt inspired to write this post today.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about my student teaching experience. I ended up deleting it less than a week later, because I didn't think that it really highlighted my experience and also because I had yet to finish my student teaching experience. I decided that it made more sense for me to finish student teaching all together before I really spoke about it. Now that I have had time to reflect on my experience, I think that it might help other people that are about the start their student teaching experience to hear about mine. 
Now, before I started, I did what more millennials do and searched the internet for articles about student teaching. I was shocked to find that there are very few articles out there from the point of view of the student teacher. Of course, it's awesome to read articles about that cooperating teachers will be looking for in their experience with you. It does make the whole experience a bit more terrifying for you if you have no clue what to expect!

I had volunteered in the past with students in a classroom setting, but I had never had the amount of responsibility that comes with being a student teacher. Every school does they teaching practicum differently. Some require you to be in a classroom/classrooms for 6 weeks, while others like mine required me to be in multiple classrooms for an entire year. I spent about 75% of my time in a first grade classroom, and will be discussing my experiences their mainly for this post. 

1. Choose a cooperating teacher that is eager to teach you. I guess I should confess to all of you that I had somewhat of a 'perfect' student teaching experience. My cooperating teacher dedicated a main chunk of her energies over the past year to educate me on the profession, and allowed me to take over her room frequently. I was included in meetings with other staff, and I always knew that if I had a class requirement she would be there for me to run ideas by or get advice from. My cooperating teacher's paraprofessional also became an incredible resource for me throughout the year. Both of these women welcomed me into their classroom, taught me how to collaborate with students and staff, and what it truly means to be an educator. I will remember these women and their lessons for the rest of my life. The most important thing you can do is find a cooperating teacher that wants to teach you about the professional, and give you the opportunity to grow.

2. Be open to different kinds of experiences. Adaptability is one of the most important skills that you need to learn as a student teacher. Most student teaching programs will require you to work in a variety of different age categories, and if like me you are becoming dually certified, you will also be working with special education students and educators. I spent time in general and special elementary education classes, as well as high school level special education classes. I had to learn to adapt to the different grade levels and environments so that I could be a resource to the educators I was working with. I also was able to help out my cooperating school on occasion by substituting whenever they needed someone on short notice. The first time I subbed, I found out when I got to the school in the morning. Talk about scary! I had about 10 minutes to read the lesson plans (which were extremely detailed) before students were in the door, and I was meant to teach. These experiences allowed me to practice what my cooperating teacher was teaching me, and allowed me to see how other educators ran their classrooms. I had to be able to adapt to all of the new students I would be meeting, and use a wide variety of techniques to address their individual needs.

3. Listen to the students you work with. I was lucky enough to work with most of my students for two years due to my volunteer work the year before. Students are the reason that we are all here. It is so important for teachers to listen to their students when they are talking to them. Even if a student wants to tell you a story about their pet. To them, what they are saying is important, and you need to listen. I had a teacher tell me that at the end of the year an educator should be able to tell you at least 2 things about each of their students that isn't academics related. This is something that I plan on doing in the future to ensure that I am always strengthening my relationships with my students.

4. Take notes and photographs (with cooperating teacher's consent) of things that you want to replicate in the future. As a future educator, it is nearly impossible to not daydream about what your classroom will look like once you graduate and become employed by a school. My cooperating teacher had her room set up similar to how I hope to set mine up in the future. Ask your cooperating teacher or other teachers in the building if you can take pictures of things that you might want to replicate in the future. I created a list of different classroom elements that I picked from each of the classrooms I observed, and I have found that it helped me to create my own visions for a future classroom.

5. Pinterest is your best friend.  Every teacher I have worked with so far has been a lover of Pinterest. Loads of educators are posting awesome tutorials, organization techniques, and lesson plans on there, and it had become an excellent resource when you get stuck creatively or need a lesson to meet a certain Common Core standard. I have had a teaching Pinterest page for about a year now, and I am always adding to it. Feel free to check it out! Every teaching program will require student teachers to create lesson plans, and Pinterest is a great jumping point for lessons. I have also found that websites like Teachers Pay Teachers have great free resources and worksheets for teachers as well as options that you can pay for.

6. Develop relationships with other staff members. It was important for me to develop relationships with the staff at my cooperating school. I always liked to think that I was a guest in this school, and I need to prove to everyone that I am here to help and learn from them. Throughout the school year I was able to create supportive relationships with other members of the staff, and I am so thankful to them. Teachers would let me observe their classes with little or no notice, welcome me to IEP meetings, and discuss the health and educational needs of students. You honestly never know, one of these staff members might be pivotal in helping you land a job in the future if you showed them that you were dedicated and willing to learn.

7. Pay attention. This may sound like common sense, but it is vital that you pay attention during this extremely important time in your degree program. I have attended a job fair and spoken with other education professionals, and each time they asked me what I had learned from my experience so far. Whenever you have the opportunity to learn from your cooperating teacher, be sure to write down what they say. This information might help you in the future when completing an assignment for a class or answering a question during a job interview. Remember, teachers are lifelong learners, and you will never be finished learning.

Finally, enjoy yourself. You are about to have a unique experience that will really allow you to understand if teaching is something that you would like to do professionally. There will be scary moments, and you will make mistakes. However, you will also learn an incredible amount from the students and teachers you will be spending time with. Have fun and enjoy every moment, because your experience will be over before you know it.

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