So here we are, friends.
11 classes, 275 students, and 79 batches of GAK later, and I’m finally staring down the last week of my student teaching experience. After the first week, I wrote some tips for survival. They were all true and exceedingly helpful. But oh, how much I’ve learned in the last few months. I feel as though I’m a completely different person than the one who bounded into my first placement like an eager puppy back in August. So I bring you five more things I’ve gathered:
Nothing builds rapport with your students faster than learning their names. Make a seating chart and study it. Force yourself to pass back papers. Stand at the door and greet each student by name as they come into class. Sure, it will take a while to learn all of them (especially at the second placement) but your students will appreciate your effort. I may never remember which twin is Kasey and which one is Kelly, but they know I’m trying, and they cut me some slack. Plus, I Kasey has the curly hair…
Take advice…with a grain of salt
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has advice on how the classroom should function. Warm ups or no, read the objective or have students read it, individual vs. group work, the list goes on and on. As a student teacher, you are in a position to glean all the best advice from the people around you, but you are free to ignore the advice that doesn’t apply/doesn’t work. Be gracious, say thank you, and go your own way. In your cooperating teacher’s classroom, you need to be respectful of their rules and procedures, but once you’re on your own, it’s your show.
Steal everything. Everything.
Handouts, lecture notes, PowerPoint slides. Ask your mentor or content partner for their best work and more than likely, they’ll tell you to plug in a jump drive and take it all. Teachers are generous. As long as it isn’t licensed material (don’t be that person) take anything they offer. You don’t have to use everything, but it’s great to have a bank of ideas. Your county or school server is also probably rich with strategies.
Try not be offended
It’s going to happen; someone will forget about you. There won’t be enough handouts at the staff meeting or no one will tell you that you can wear jeans on Friday. It isn’t personal, but the team isn’t used to the extra body and sometimes, they’ll forget to include you. Or, they’ll forget that you don’t get department-wide emails and that you have to be told information in person. It’s easy to get your feathers ruffled – get over yourself. Assuming your team is generally good-willed, believe in the power of the honest mistake and don’t throw a fit when you feel left out.
Every once in a while, you might even be surprised that they remembered you. Like when your Testing Coordinator printed out a copy of the data-access instructions because he knew you couldn’t get to the server, or when a group of teachers throws you a going away lunch on your last day. Relish those moments and let the other ones go.
Be kind to yourself
This works a couple ways. You’ll have days that you blew it; not enough copies, your pacing was all wrong, and you snapped at a kid because you told him to stop rocking in his chair for the 573rd time. Try not to carry over the feelings of inadequacy and regret into the next day. More than likely, your students won’t remember and the only person you’re punishing is yourself. Be reflective, but give yourself a break. You’re still learning, you will absolutely make mistakes.
Which leads to the second part: take care of your body and soul. Student teaching is a lot of work, but you’re no good to anyone if you are sick and worn down all the time. Take time to sleep, exercise, see friends, or hang out with your boyfriend. Balance is key; better to start setting boundaries at the beginning, than when you’re already drowning.
It sounds cliche, but honestly, these can be some of the best times of your life. Enjoy the ride, learn all you can, and take time to appreciate the whirlwind experience. Before you know it, it will be over and you’ll be thrust terrifyingly into first year teaching.