I'm finally at the point in my college career that I have been waiting for since my first day of freshman year: student teaching. Throughout all the semesters, classes, and interactions I've had as a student, my main thought throughout all of it was, "put me in the classroom already!"
Now that I've gotten to this point, I'm wary and anxious about student teaching. I'm dreading to return to the classroom anyway, because trying to earn a degree in the middle of a pandemic is stressful and hectic as is. At the same time, I want to just get it over with, graduate with my Bachelor's in Elementary Education, and start teaching in a classroom of my own. Talk about a catch-22.
Regardless, it's something that needs to be done and the anxiety is setting in. I know there are tons of education majors in the same position, and the likelihood we have the same concerns is pretty high. Luckily, I found some helpful reminders that addressed my concerns, and made me feel a little better and more excited to get started.
What if I forget everything I was taught?
If you're anything like me, you might create an entire dialog in your head prior to teaching, public speaking, etc., but end up forgetting everything you planned as soon as you get in front of people. Practicing in front of the mirror is in no way the same as being in front of 20+ students and an actual teacher.
While you stand there silently trying to remember what you were going to say, maybe you get that deer-in-the-headlights look. Maybe the students and your teacher notice. Then comes the awkward silence and the urge to break the ice with a corny joke in attempt to redirect your train of thought.
In any scenario, if you forget what you prepared, how to deal with students (and their parents), classroom management strategies, etc., etc., just go back to the basics. At this point, the basics are ingrained in everything that you are. Once you apply them, you'll be able to recount everything piece by piece until you get back in your groove. It happens to everyone, regardless of the profession, so just take a step back, analyze the situation, remember the basics, and you'll be fine from there.
Will the students actually take me seriously?
In most cases, your student teaching placement will be the same as the previous semester. This way, you've gotten the opportunity to learn the routine, your mentor teacher's style of teaching, what the students are used to, and the students themselves. In a scenario like this one, because the students are comfortable with your presence and have gotten to know you as well, it would be expected that the students would take you seriously. You're part of their school day, and they expect you to be there and help them learn.
On the other hand, some student teachers change placements for student teaching. Despite developing that relationship with the students at your previous placement, sometimes life gets in the way. This is my circumstance, as a result of financial limitations. Previously, I only had to report to my placement one day out of the week. For student teaching, I'd have to be at the school everyday. With the distance I would have to travel, gas prices, and not being able to work as much, it realistically wouldn't have worked well. Thus, I needed a new placement that was closer and less costly.
In this scenario, the absence of that relationship with the students and not knowing the routine, the school, or the teacher could pose some problems or awkward feelings. I liked to joke around with the students at my previous placement, as it pertained to what they were learning, but I don't know if the new group is a tough audience, if that's something they're used to, or if they'd just feel more uncomfortable. I'm an outgoing person but I have to feel comfortable before opening up.
The best advice I can give, whether it be a reminder to myself or otherwise, would be to simply test the waters. If you're in a new environment with new students, make it a point when you're introducing yourself to mention your habits that get you through a lesson. Having that open communication with any group of students, whether you've previously worked with them or not, is the best thing to have. That way, everyone can be more open-minded to your approach and hopefully everything goes smoothly. If it doesn't, just try something new.
What if I have to deal with the parents directly?
I've met a lot of former teachers that say, despite loving the school, their students, and teaching, it was the parents that inevitably led them to leave the profession as a whole. All of the parent stories I've heard were virtually nightmares in their own right.
A contributing factor to this anxiety also stems from the fact that with the grade level I want to teach, I'll have parents of students that are around my age. You can draw your own conclusions from this but in order to remain semi-professional, let's say that I'm not too optimistic.
From what I've gathered, the best thing to do with any type of parent is to stay professional and keep a level head. However, as you are the student teacher and not the acting, certified teacher, let your mentor take the reins. As a student teacher, you're not qualified to make official assessments or recommendations. If anything, you can speak on observations you've made in class and say things like, "oh, *so and so* always participates in class discussions". Keep it light and have your mentor teacher talk about the big stuff. If there comes the time when a conference isn't too ideal, keep a level head, stay professional, and let your mentor teacher take over. You haven't officially started your career yet and you don't have the experience under your belt - your mentor does.
Will I have to report to parent-teacher conferences?
Up until this point, attending parent-teacher conferences weren't a requirement. It was more along the lines of, "you can come if you want to", or just stating that it would be a helpful experiences for when I start teaching. Though the latter is definitely true, I would have work around the time that the conferences were taking place anyway so even if I wanted to go, I couldn't.
In this case, I'm not entirely sure if I'll have to report to the parent-teacher conferences while student teaching. That's something I'm sure will be communicated and clarified by professors as to what the university expects in regards to field experience.
If attendance is required or you/I choose to go, remember that you are not an official, acting, certified teacher. Don't overstep, stay professional, and if you choose to walk the line, don't cross it.
How will I manage all my responsibilities?
In addition to student teaching, there's other classes you have to manage (with grades and GPA of course), certification exams, portfolio submissions, outside work, and other responsibilities apart from being a student. Student teaching is the last leg of the race and there's no time to make a wrong turn or stumble.
The best advice I, or anyone else, can give, is to get a handle on time management. Planners, calendars, post-it reminders, anything to ensure that you stay on top of things. This is not the time to fall behind or procrastinate. Pre-crastinate.
Apart from student teaching, take care of your exams, submissions, and so on early on so that you're not scrambling at the last minute. Stress is already high (because in addition to everything else, you're graduating soon), so there's no reason to add onto it because you decided a show on Netflix or Hulu was more important than completing a section of your portfolio.
What if the students lose faith in me?
My main concern with this is that while I'm teaching, I'll say something that's completely wrong and while the students may realize it in the moment, I might not. Therefore, they might think I don't know what I'm talking about and won't trust me to teach them anymore, or they'll just think I'm a bad teacher and shouldn't be in this profession. Kids can be cruel.
The most important thing to remember is that, just like them, you're there to learn and gain experience. The students know that. They might need reminders sometimes, but I'm sure they'll be patient and give you time to settle in and gather your thoughts.
Another thing to remember is that your mentor teacher is like your lifeline. If something goes wrong, you need a helping hand, or need clarification somewhere, they'll come in for the assist and help when you need it. It's all part of the gradual release technique. Eventually you'll get to the point where some things are just instinct and won't need the assistance anymore. Until then, just remember that part of your role as a student teacher is that you're still learning.
Will my mentor teacher help me if I start to stumble?
This is something that's kind of haunting me. In the back of my mind, I know that my mentor teacher won't just abandon me and make me fend for myself but at the same time, I know she'll want me to learn from the experience. After all, once I'm teaching in my own classroom, I won't have that lifeline. At that point, I'll only have myself to depend on in the moment.
I keep trying to remind myself of the gradual release technique. If I need to use a lifeline or need to get my train of thought back on track, my mentor teacher will be there to lead the way without actually taking over. After all, I'm a student teacher and still learning the ropes.
Asking for help, even as a certified teacher, if always a good thing because it shows that no matter where (or when) you are in your profession, you're still willing to learn and improve. There will always be someone in the corner, literally or metaphorically, motivating and encouraging you to keep going and that you've got it.
What if I struggle with classroom management?
We've all been taught countless classroom management techniques. Whether it be guest speakers in class, reading articles, or watching teacher-YouTubers, classroom management is the topic that's always revisited. At a certain point, maybe you get sick of seeing and/or hearing the words, "Classroom Management" - I know I am. However, it's a crucial aspect of maintaining a positive and meaningful learning environment for students.
If things aren't going your way and things are just absolutely hectic, just take a step back, re-center yourself, and address it accordingly. Your main goal in this scenario is to avoid encouraging or adding to the chaos. If you're not entirely sure how you want to broach the situation, take a look around the room because more than likely, the classroom rules are somewhere and you can refer to them.
But what about getting the students' attention?
Simply stand there, silently, looking around the room - maybe throw in an "I'll wait". Eventually, they'll stop. Refer to the classroom rules at this point. Most rules are pretty generalized and are somewhat the same across the board, so ask questions like, "are we being respectful?", "were we raising our hands?", "are we using inside voices?", etc. to address things collectively without blatantly calling anyone out (yet). Things should settle and if they don't, your mentor teacher is always there to help.
Do I have to take over on the first day?
If you were at your placement in the previous semester and already have the routine down, are comfortable in the environment, know the students, and are just ready to go, probably. However, in any case, whether it be the same or a new placement, I imagine that your mentor teacher would do a gradual release of responsibility and workload.
I doubt they'll throw you into the lion's den but personally, I like to expect the worst and hope for the best.
Be ready for anything but for the sake of your sanity, ask for a gradual release approach if that wasn't already the plan.
How will I know the line between a student's genuine confusion and just phishing for answers?
In a situation like mine, being placed at a new school, it's going to take some time to get to know the students and their habits, especially in regards to their learning and behaviorisms.
Regardless, the realization comes in time and differentiating between these two things becomes extremely easy. The main difference between the two is that there's the students who actually try to do something on their own before asking for help, and those that don't give an assignment/task the time of day on their own before asking for help. There's also the high likelihood that once you tell them to try for themselves, they look all sad, act like they're trying (but you're watching them), and they come back with absolutely nothing written down. They have the notes, and the step-by-step procedure to work it out for themselves but don't want to do the work.
I've come to realize two things solely in my observations:
For those that ask for help after already trying, and using the insight you give them productively, are the students you don't have to worry about because they're willing to put forth the effort. Those that don't try and that phish for answers are the ones that take time away from those that are genuinely confused and want to learn.
No matter what, patience is key. Keep a level head and encourage hard work.
What if I realize that I don't want a career in teaching?
I've pondered this for a couple years, if I'm being honest. Normally, that would be a sign that maybe I don't want it and that I should've changed my major at the first (or second) sign of doubt. But of course, I gave it the benefit of the doubt with the good ole, "it'll be better when I'm in my own classroom". As education majors, this statement is practically a default that simply encourages us to keep fighting the good fight.
Maybe it will, maybe it won't. The fact of the matter is, we won't know until we're actually in the moment, teaching in our own classrooms. At that point, we'll either be perfectly content or deeply regretting the decision. In my case, I've wanted to teach since I was super young and never changed course - maybe in regards to what subject to teach, but never the profession itself. The fact that I was so sure of myself throughout my adolescence has given me the drive to keep fighting and pushing.
It's like one of those things where you ask yourself, "if my childhood self could see me right now, would they be proud?"
I have the urge to do that because my childhood self was so adamant about it. Maybe my childhood self was right and I'll genuinely enjoy it, or maybe my childhood self was naïve and just had wishful thinking. Either way, I won't know. I'm not one to just give up when it gets difficult. I persevere, fight, and finish what I started.
If I/you still want it, great. If I/you don't, teach for a bit to build up some financial stability and perhaps try something new.
Only time will tell. Until then, give it a chance and keep going.
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