For nearly-certified teachers, there are few challenges as daunting as student teaching. For the first time, you’re directing the whole show: teaching lessons, grading papers, handling student discipline, and navigating parent-teacher conferences.
While your certification depends greatly upon your ability to manage academic lessons, student teaching can also be a dry-run for future employment. Administrators want to see that student teachers are not only able to handle their classrooms, but that they can also fit in with the wider school culture.
Consider the following tips for making the most out of your student teaching experience.
Although it seems like obvious advice, it is still worth mentioning right up front. One of the quickest ways to remove yourself from consideration as a future employee is to dress unprofessionally during student teaching. It really doesn’t matter how the teachers around you dress; they’re already employed. Until you have a contract, always look your best.
Introduce Yourself to Your Students
The number one reason student teachers aren’t hired is because they have poor classroom management skills. Establishing yourself as an adept classroom manager starts with building a relationship with your students. Take some time to introduce yourself to your classes early on in your student teaching.
Bring in several items that represent you: favorite books and movies, pictures of you and your family, stuffed animals, your favorite mitt, whatever you like. If you’re artistic, make a tri-fold, stand-up board all about yourself.
Use this as a chance to share some details about your background. Talk about where you’re from, your family, and other information that may interest your students. Let the kids ask questions. The goal is for your students to begin to feel comfortable with you as their teacher. While this process takes time, a strong introduction will go a long way to speeding things up.
Note: Be sure the information you share is appropriate for your role as a teacher. Neither you nor your students should be made uncomfortable by these details.
Write a Letter to the Parents
Just as you need to introduce yourself to your students, you should introduce yourself to their parents as well. Write a short, informative letter telling them about your education, why you want to become a teacher, and what you hope to accomplish during student teaching.
Be sure to offer your contact information, and let parents know that they can contact you throughout your student teaching if they have any questions or concerns. While this is one of the scarier aspects of student teaching (when things go wrong, parents are going to blame you), it is also one of the realities of the job.
Every administrator wants to know that you are willing and able to work closely and productively with parents. The more effectively you communicate, the better.
Volunteer for Committees
Most student teachers get involved with after-school tutoring and coaching, and these are great opportunities to engage further with your students. However, don’t forget about the numerous committees made up of teachers and administrators. School districts have dozens of committees, and a lot of difficult work is done within them.
Ask your principal about which committees you can be part of. Be prepared for odd meeting times. Bring a pad of paper and a pen for notes, and don’t worry if you never really speak. Your presence alone tells administrators and your peers that you are dedicated to the profession, even the parts of it that may be viewed as boring by many teachers.
Make Friends With the Secretary and the Janitor
Nothing happens in a school building that the secretaries don’t know about. I mean nothing. They are the gatekeepers to your success, even more so than your principal and your master teacher. A good school secretary will know every aspect of your school: every kid, every parent, every activity, every schedule.
Becoming friends with the secretaries at your school will make your life easier. Believe me, sooner or later, you’re going to need their help.
This also goes for the janitors. School janitors are some of the hardest-working people in the education system. Get on a first name basis with the janitor who cleans your room. One day, you’ll need help from him: a locked door opened, a clogged sink unplugged, an extension cord located.
One of the best ways to make a janitor happy? Make sure your students put their chairs up. This makes it much easier to sweep or vacuum the room.
Spend More Time in SPED Classrooms
Student teachers are generally required to spend a certain number of hours in special education classrooms, but I’d advise spending as much time as you can spare there. Your average teacher is given a couple of courses on classroom management, but special education teachers are expertly trained to understand how young minds work, how students learn and develop, and how to modify behavior.
Watching what a good SPED teacher does each day is a master’s class in classroom management: breaking down behavior, charting it, communicating expectations, analyzing where communication has failed, and mapping educational and behavior goals.
A student teacher can learn more in a few months spent in a SPED classroom than in years of college coursework.