Congratulations on reaching this point in your education journey. As you prepare for what is bound to be a busy and incredibly rewarding experience, I’m sure you’re feeling a bit stressed and somewhat anxious. Guess what? That’s normal.
Long story short, I took the scenic route to my teaching certificate. I got my license through a nine month graduate program. During the, I would commute two hours each way to campus for classes and student teach part-time. All of my classes were online during the second semester but during that time, I was student teaching full-time.
I lost a lot of sleep, cried a lot of tears, and consumed an unhealthy amount of caffeine during those nine months but I also learned A LOT. I want to share some of that knowledge with you as you embark on this exciting adventure. Here are my top ten tips for making it through and making the best of your student teaching experience.
1.) Take initiative
There are so many things going on in a classroom at any given moment. Don’t just sit back and wait for someone to ask you to do something. A student has a question that you can answer? Step in and answer it. Does the classroom library look like a tornado hit it? Take a moment to help straighten it up. See some papers that need to be photocopied? Copy them. They seem like small tasks but 9 times out of 10, they can also be a learning experience. It sounds ridiculous but the few minutes that you spend making those copies for your mentor can help you become familiar with those oversized paper jammers. Straightening up the classroom library? The perfect opportunity to pick up on some new titles for your future classroom.
2.) Find an organizational system that works for you
I had a really non-traditional student teaching experience and the only way I was able to keep my head above water was to put everything in a binder with dividers. I called it my “Life Binder” and literally every single paper I was given and every single note I took was put in its appropriate section. If you’re following a more traditional route to certification (or unlike me, you make the conscious effort to not bite off more than you can chew…) you’ll probably have less chaos in your life during student teaching and therefore will have less to keep track of but regardless of your route, find an organizational system that works best for you and stick to it.
3.) Keep EVERYTHING
This goes hand in hand with tip number two. Use whatever organizational system that works for you and KEEP EVERYTHING! Lesson plans? Keep them. Student handouts? Keep them. Photos? Keep them. Notes that you’ve taken? Yup, keep those too. Not only will these come in handy when you’re preparing for interviews but they’ll save you time and time again when you’re flying solo in the classroom. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to reference or reuse things that I collected during student teaching.
I know that sounds ridiculous but just do it. Student teaching is HARD. You will feel overwhelmed. You will have bad days. You will be stressed out and overtired. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I cried at lunch, after dismissal, in my car on the way home, or all night long when I had too much work and not enough time. It is 110% okay to cry if you need to.
5.) Experience EVERYTHING
There is so much more to teaching than lesson planning and student teaching. Experience as much of teaching as you possibly can. In my year of student teaching, we went on multiple field trips, dealt with the death of a staff member, and on the day that my mentor was away at conference, the ceiling collapsed and the classroom filled with inches and inches of water. My biggest regret during student teaching though, is the day I said no to calling parents about student behavior. Parent communication is HARD and looking back, I really wish I took advantage of the opportunity to experience with support.
6.) Take care of YOU
Like I said before, during student teaching, you’re going to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and overtired. Make sure you find time during the day or week to do something that fills your cup. Curl up with a good book for a few minutes, go out to dinner with a friend, watch your favorite Netflix show, or take a nap. Do whatever it is that makes you happy. It doesn’t take long to get burnt out in the education field and getting into the habit of taking care of yourself will help prevent it.
7.) Reflect and move on
You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. You’re going to ROCK some of your lessons, and some of your lessons will be a total flop. You’ll receive stellar feedback from observations and you’re going to receive some criticism. There is absolutely no use in dwelling on the rough days, flopped lessons, and harsh feedback. Use them as teachable moments for yourself. Reflect on what made them less than fabulous, think about what you’ll do differently, make a plan, and move on.
Whether you’re being formally observed by your advisor, informally observed by your mentor, or just teaching a normal lesson, OVERPREPARE. Make sure you have some extension activities and early finishers ready to go. You will always have that one kid who calls out, “I’M DONE!” at least ten minutes before you were expecting to hear those words. Even if your extra activities don’t get touched, it’s better to have them than to be scrambling to come up with something in the moment.
9.) Build relationships
You’ve heard it a million times, but BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. You already know the importance of building relationships with your students but it’s equally as important to build them with the teachers around you. Administrators are always looking for team players. Even if you don’t have plans to apply for a job at the school you’re student teaching at, these are all people that you can go to when it comes time to gather references and letters of recommendation. Above all that, this is an amazing opportunity to form friendships with people who get it. I met one of my best friends in the whole entire world when I was student teaching and she was teaching fourth grade down the hall. I truly wouldn’t have made it through the last few school years without her. Teaching is HARD. Take any opportunity you can to add people to your social circle who understand the demands of your future career.
10.) Advocate for yourself
I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer here but there is a very legitimate chance that your student teaching placement isn’t going to be a good fit. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT just sit back and let things slide. If you aren’t comfortable or you don’t feel like you’re learning what you need to know, be your own advocate and SPEAK UP. If possible, approach your mentor to discuss your concerns. If that doesn’t work, look to your college advisor. My first student teaching placement wasn’t a good fit. By the end of my third week, I had yet to do anything other than observe and I was concerned about gaining the knowledge that I needed in the time I had. Eventually, my advisor got involved and I was transferred to another school where my mentor had me running small groups at the end of my first week. I spent the remainder of the year in her classroom and I learned a million times more than I ever could have imagined. You’re at the last step of your college career before you’re on your own in the classroom and you deserve to gain as much knowledge as you can. (Plus, you’re paying A LOT for this semester…you also deserve to get your money’s worth.)
I hope you’ve found some of these tips helpful. This is a stressful but exciting time and I just know that you are going to ROCK your student teaching experience.