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.

From what I’ve experienced and the situations that some of my fellow student teachers have described, student teaching placements are diverse and sometimes unpredictable. You might get placed with a veteran who has a very effective system worked out (which he/she will not want you to deviate from), or you might get placed with a relatively greener teacher who might be more laissez-faire, or combinations and variations of these. It’s mostly a crap shoot, unless you get involved in who you are placed with before student teaching (which isn’t unheard of – if you have a teacher that you would want to student teach with, go talk to your field placement coordinator!). Good, bad, or ugly, you’re stuck with it for the duration of your student teaching experience (hereafter STE).

I felt very fortunate in my placement. I had a seasoned teacher (within a few years of retirement) for my cooperating teacher, one who is very competent and well-respected by colleagues and students alike, and since I was student teacher #11, I benefited from the previous mentoring experiences of my co-op.

The first lesson I impart to future student teachers is one that I learned from my co-op, Mrs. B, as a matter of practice in my STE. When I came in, Mrs. B opened up her resources to me, especially as I began to prepare my major unit on 1984. But there was a caveat.

“You can look through this folder for ideas,” she told me, “but I’m not going to let you just use what I teach this novel with. You need to create your own resources.”

And this is rightly my first advice for student teachers: Create your own materials for teaching in the classroom.

In case it isn’t entirely obvious why you should do this, here are a few reasons:

  1. Creating your own materials will force you to think about what you are trying to teach (and will consequently assess) rather than simply asking the questions and doing the activities that someone else has developed, someone who may be working under different assumptions of what students should be learning and who – of course – does not have a precise idea of what your students need to learn.
  2. Sometimes, the things that are prepared with textbooks or even by other teachers are just wrong. Don’t learn this the hard way: If you do it yourself and are careful, you’ll have a much easier time. Besides, if when errors pop up, it looks so much more professional to say, “Okay, that was my mistake,” rather than, “Sorry, but don’t look at me – it was the textbook publisher’s fault.” (And if you use your co-op’s materials, that could potentially strain the working relationship.)
  3. When you go into your own classroom, you may not be using exactly the same textbooks or other materials that you have in your STE. When you create your own materials, they can be taken with you. I already know that I will be re-using my excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to accompany the textbook material on transcendentalism for my junior English course, and the activity should transfer nicely because I didn’t rely on pre-made activities and materials.

There are surely other reasons, but these should demonstrate how important this can be. Of course, teachers will more than likely share with you (and I shared resources I used to teach 1984 with a relatively new teacher during my STE), but relying on the assumption that there will always be materials ready to go for you to hand out and teach from is dangerous. Just don’t do it.

Bottom line: When it comes to classroom resources, perhaps the old cliché is true – If you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself.