Student Teaching


I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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Randomly, I happened to see a link come in through my WordPress admin panel, and I followed a short trail to find out that I got some recognition for my blogging from Scholastic Instructor. Docere Est Discere was apparently selected as the “Best Student Teacher Blog” for the September issue. I am absolutely thrilled to get that kind of recognition, especially in words like this:

Why We Love It: From tips for up-and-coming student teachers to his own reflections on his process, Mr. B. reminds us how far we have come. Perfect for those days when we’re feeling just a bit jaded.

How could I not be motivated to write about my teaching experiences with that kind of praise?

Thanks, Scholastic!

Now that I’ve gone through about three weeks of my first year of teaching, I think that I have enough perspective to make some statements on how being a “real” teacher, solely responsible for what happens in the classroom, is different from the oversight and guidance of the student teaching experience. Or, at least I can make some distinctions about how my experiences in these two contexts have been different or similar. As always, your mileage may vary.

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Looking at my blog stats (which I confess I’m a bit obsessive about), I notice that many of my posts with the most traffic have been ones about student teaching. So, in an attempt to write about things that I know something about (and to keep things going through this somewhat dry phase of planning-but-not-yet-teaching), I’m planning on writing a series of entries with advice for upcoming student teachers to consider before they start this invaluable (but stressful) experience.

First up is a topic I feel very strongly about: preparing materials for classroom use.

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It has been a good May Day.

Actually, April went out with a bang for me: I had my first interview at school #1, and it went well – well enough that the principal insinuated that I would probably get a callback for a second round of interviews. (!!) Excellent news, of course, and I’m hopeful.

Today, however, I took some time to return to the school I student taught at for a poetry slam that they held the last hour of the day, where students read their own poetry and even sang lyrics they had penned. I got blindsided a little, too: my former co-op asked me at the last minute if I’d play and sing something (a student had brought a guitar to sing one of her own songs), and despite not being entirely comfortable with it, I went ahead and performed a song I’d written a number of months ago. It was a very enjoyable visit, getting to see my former students and talk with my co-op, who I talked to about my current job hunt for a substantial amount of time.

When I left there, I found out that I’d had a call from another district while I was gone, and I immediately called the school back. They were, as I expected, calling about my interest in their position (which is for seventh grade). I said that I was, and we set up an initial interview for Monday morning.

This is good news to me: I sent off all of those applications, and all of them had application deadlines of today except for this school that called, and their deadline was yesterday. So maybe I’ll get some more calls on Monday after the schools have taken account of their applications. I’m much more hopeful now that I’m seeing something to show for those applications, and I hope it continues so that I have a good chance to find a job that suits me and that I’ll be happy with and successful in.

Student teaching, that is. (I thought the title would be appropriate given the day.)

Yesterday was my final day at my school, a half-day before the beginning of Easter break. All of my classes had parties scheduled, and it was a very enjoyable day. Some highlights:
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No, not student teaching (not quite yet – 1.5 days left).

I’m referring to my culminating projects of my undergraduate career: two Candidate Assessments that are essentially the capstone of my degree program. I am exhausted and probably not ready to do much more reflection (I did probably 15 pages of it just tonight!), but at least I can rejoice at this fact: it is done!

The only real step between me and certification now is the APT (Assessment of Professional Teaching) test that I’ll be taking in a few weeks, and then graduation…and then two weeks of middle school certification courses. But then I will really be done, and this teaching thing will be mine. (And of course, the job hunt continues in the meantime.)

Now I must go sleep, briefly but (hopefully) blissfully.

Only three (and a half) days left.

It’s very difficult for me to believe that my student teaching experience is almost over. After 13 weeks, I find this realization sort of bittersweet: I am ready to relinquish the responsibility and stress that goes with the job, but I am equally regretful about missing out on all the good things – my students, mostly, and all of the little things that have gone along with teaching them.

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A very quick note (I type this as my 2nd hour seniors are silently reading Elie Wiesel’s Night): Today has been the best start of a day since I have been student teaching. My eighth graders have been very difficult to please, and they have given me hell as a result (I guess because I’m not entertaining enough), but today, something worked!

The something was an idea I’d seen somewhere on the ‘Net, an “I Am/We Are” poem. The idea is to have students write several lines of alternating statements about themselves individually (“I Am”) and the group (“We Are”). (I encouraged students to write statements using other verbs but in the same format, e.g. “I have a great sense of humor.”) This idea strikes me as a very good one for middle school/junior high because it respects students’ individual opinions and allows a safe outlet (relatively so, at least) for expressing them.

And it worked like I had wanted: the students wrote some interesting statements about themselves and the class. To make things interesting, I had the students write 12 lines, 6 of each type, and then I had the students contribute a line each from their own poems to make a class poem; odd numbered students would contribute “I Am” statements, while even numbered students will give “We Are” statements. (I have 13 students in this class, and one was absent, so it worked out nicely.) After all of the 12 lines had been written on the board, the students wanted to end the poem on a different note, so two more students contributed an additional line, the concluding line being “We’re not weird; we’re just ourselves.”

It is a magnificent feeling after having so much trouble with this class. One student who I have had many conflicts with actually said that they were proud of me for coming up with something they actually liked, and I thanked her (privately) for saying such a nice thing to me. As a result, I’m on cloud nine – this shows that I can have success, and to a large degree, even a moderate success in a sea of failures can make the whole thing seem worthwhile.

Today has been a long day, one without the comfort of my cooperating teacher (who is away dealing with the death of her mother). I have had a very capable substitute teacher (who is actually an English teacher who will be looking for a position next fall – my competition!), but it has truly felt like my own class in terms of dealing with matters myself. One student in an early class refused to do the task I had given, insteading preferring to do an assignment for another class, and I told him once to put it away. He acted like he did, but I promptly found him doing the same. I told him he had a detention, but even this did not stop him – I had to go so far as to take away the book and worksheet he was using. I followed through, though; he should have received the detention slip a few periods later.

I also had to deal with a problem that has bugged me for the longest time, a problem that I suspected might come up given the nature of my high school students (who are in fairly advanced honors and AP courses).

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