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:

  • My eighth graders took an entire length of whiteboard (which is actually two whiteboards connected) to write up things about how they were going to miss me. Favorite part: “You turned out to be the best!” (If I needed any further demonstration of the change that occurred with this class, there it is.)
  • I wore a sweater vest yesterday because of a long-running joke with my eighth graders that predates my appearance in the classroom, and while several students commented on it, one student in particular yelled, “SWEATER VEST!” as soon as he entered the classroom.
  • My HS cooperating teacher had been planning some things secretly – I knew this because  she had me leave the room for about 5-10 minutes in every one of our classes for two days this week – and it turned out to be a couple of really nice things:
    • A long-sleeved school shirt that students had signed (and some students signed it during our party because they hadn’t been able to during class), which I actually wore yesterday because I was so proud of it; and
    • A binder of “student teaching memories” that included an 8″ x 10″ photo of each class (except for one class that had run out of time during class; we did get a class photo that my co-op said she’d send me) and letters that students had written to me, many of which were incredibly thoughtful.
  • I had taken my guitar to school because I had promised my eighth graders that I would bring it in and play for them. Unfortunately, my co-op was somehow oblivious to this fact and kept the class going with a “pop quiz” (meant to benefit students who hadn’t skipped out on the half-day) and YouTube videos of narcoleptic animals. (I was a little bit irritated about this…but I’ll save my comments for the moment.) What happened rather unexpectedly, though, is that a student in my 2nd hour class brought in a guitar of their own, and it sort of got shoved at me to play. So I did – I played “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon (for the sake of having a song that some students might actually know), and I got a great response from it, so much so that I played for all of my high school classes. (I gave one class options, and they chose “Yellow” by Coldplay, which I had learned the night before for my eighth graders. After fumbling through it, I decided not to give any more options.)

    What amazed me about this was the way that many of my students responded; in particular, the primary comment I received from students in my problem class (5th hour) was, “Why didn’t you do that on the first day?” And while I have reservations about doing that sort of the thing on the very first day, the comment made me think – Why didn’t I do something like that earlier? What it so significantly accomplished was to help students to see a more 3-dimensional view of me as a person – not merely a teacher, a lover of the English language and literature, but as a person with other interests and talents. If I had done this earlier, I think that maybe I could have gotten some more students on board with me and saved myself some problems. Whatever it’s worth, I will highly consider this sort of thing as I think about my first semester as a “real” teacher.

Ultimately, to say that I have learned a great deal from my students would be a gross understatement. Many of these things are about how I ought to set up my future classroom, and they have been invaluable in that regard alone. Some of it is how I should interact with my students, and that is even more valuable. Some of it has been to make me more aware of what students need and how I can best meet those needs in order to make learning happen. I can’t put a price on any of this information, and I can’t imagine having acquired it any other way – nor would I want to! The journey has been exhilirating, exhausting at times, and extremely enlightening.

Both arrangements, junior high and high school, have been very beneficial for me, but I feel compelled to point out a key difference between the two: in the junior high situation, almost all of the things I learned were strictly from my students. The reason for this is a very, very laissez-faire approach that the co-op for my eighth grade class takes with practically everything, and it applied as well to me. The amount of time I had to talk with him and do any sort of substantive planning was virtually nil; he would leave the only other hour I had available to talk with him to get ready for practices (he’s a coach), and there was no time either after the class or before school to debrief or to talk about ways to help improve things. When I failed at something that I had high hopes for, his response was, “Yeah, sometimes they shoot down even the activities that you plan and think will be great.” He did mentor me on one minor matter that came up, but otherwise, he didn’t really get involved.

That was a 180° difference from my main classroom, where my primary co-op was far more nurturing (she’s a grandmother with grown children older than I am), supportive, and sometimes even firm with me. Like my other co-op, her way of dealing with me as a student teacher was virtually identical to the way she dealt with her classroom – very much interventionist and assertive. She took a very active role – in fact, almost too active at times, in my opinion – in guiding me through the whole experience, and I am incredibly grateful for all that she taught me and in some cases made me learn. One thing she did that was of great help was to give a little bit of help with materials that could be used but largely to make her own collection of materials off-limits to me; while this may not seem overly helpful, it forced me to come up with some of my own materials, and I actually enjoyed being able to put together materials that were directed to exactly what I wanted to do.

She also modeled a very assertive discipline approach for me; in a former life (okay, just before the birth of her youngest son), she was an assistant principal, and she really knows how to handle discipline and was able to give me quite a few tips in that area, which is probably still my weakest link, so to speak. The other areas where she gave me a substantial amount of guidance was in design and planning, both on a more long-range basis and in the short-term, dealing with organization (“Make lists!” she said to me). In turn, I was able to help her somewhat with technology, and I am glad that I will have left her with hopefully a little more knowledge and ability.

So now it’s over. I’m sure I’ll keep thinking back to what happened, given that this has been such a vital part of my life for the past 3 months, but there are other things ahead. One thing I will continue to do is to keep reading the literature on education and specifically English education (I have the latest issue of English Journal sitting around here somewhere) and to blog about it, possibly relating it to these very important experiences, and of course, I’ll keep talking about the job hunt, which is now to pick up significantly since there are a lot of deadlines coming up soon, and I want to jump on any opportunities that I can.

For now, though, it is enough that it’s done, and forward I go.