A few days ago, I was asked for advice from a future student teacher. I thought this would be a great topic for a post. Maybe you could share some hints, too.
Through the years I have had several student teachers. Of those student teachers, I was fortunate to have a few that were clearly outstanding. From the first day that they walked into the classroom, they were “naturals”. When I reflect back over their experiences, I tried to figure out what made them outstanding. They each had different personalities but shared similar characteristics and actions.
The importance of this experience:
The outstanding student teachers (O.S.T.) understood that their student teaching experience was their top priority. It came before part time jobs, plans with friends, and all the other obligations a college student has on their “to do” list. Although they were receiving college credit/hours for the experience, this wasn’t a class that you showed up for at 7:30 and left at 3:15. This was their opportunity to not only put into use the knowledge they had learned so far in their course work, but also gain first hand experience in the trenches. This would be their one and only time to have guidance when they are working side-by-side with a mentor.
The O.S.T. asked for constructive criticism. Rather than let constructive criticism hurt their feelings, they saw it as a tool to help them grow professionally. They had this drive to always improve themselves. Even when a lesson went smoothly, they dissected their lesson to see which part could be better. Should they ask different types of questions? Should they allow more wait time?
A teacher is one cog in a system called school. Although you are alone when you close your classroom and begin to teach your class, you are still part of a system. All it takes is one cog to get out of alignment for you to realize the importance of each person in a school. Get to know everyone in your school and build relationships with them. A friendly “Hello, how was your weekend?” is a great ice breaker. Custodians, cafeteria workers, secretary, teacher assistants, special ed. teachers, specials teachers all play a role in keeping a school running smoothly. I have seen the relationship my O.S.T. built with staff members besides myself pay off. Many times when there is an opening at a school, staff members know about it before it is officially posted on the district’s website. A librarian, spec. ed. teacher, or classroom teacher might see a friend from another school at a workshop and ask if he/she knows of a good candidate for the position. My O.S.T. who built relationships with staff members besides myself were often recommended. One of the things I heard most often said by other staff members about my O.S.T. were “they came early, stayed late and always looked professional”. This is a visible way to show your dedication to your job.
Professional Dress and Mannerisms
One of the colleges that we received student teachers from had this wonderful, wonderful, wonderful professor who was the liaison between the college and elementary schools. I loved getting her student teachers because she gave her student teachers practical, down-to-earth advice. She constantly stressed with her S.T. that their job was to learn to be a teacher and to get a job. Here are a few of the conversation she had with her S.T. :
Student Teacher: Can we wear jeans?
Professor: No, you need to wear professional clothes every day.
Student Teacher: But, my cooperating teacher wears them on Fridays.
Professor: Your cooperating teacher has a job, you don’t, so you won’t wear jeans.
Student Teacher: What time do I arrive and leave school?
Professor: Ask your cooperating teacher what time he/she arrives and leaves. Then you make sure you arrive before him/her and leave after him/her.
Student Teacher: But, a teacher’s contract time is ______. Yes, teachers who are under contract can do that, but they have a job contract, you don’t. You need to arrive early and stay late because there should be plenty for you to do.
Student Teacher: What do I do if I don’t agree with my cooperating teacher’s discipline plan? I think he/she should use more positive reinforcement.
Professor: The principal would not have selected this teacher to be a cooperating teacher if he/she didn’t have confidence in the teacher. You currently have classroom management knowledge on a philosophical level from your classes. This teacher has that and practical knowledge as well. Watch and observe so you will have both, too.
She stressed the importance of dressing professionally. No, you don’t have to wear a dress suit to work. She meant you should:
*Look at the district’s dress code for students. This is good guideline for student teachers except for wearing shorts or jeans.
*Wear dress, pants or a skirt (not jeans). Look closely at the length of your skirt. Sit on a chair and have a friend of yours sit on the floor in front of you when you are wearing your skirts. This is the eye level of your students. Ask your friend if your skirts are appropriate for school. Gentlemen, your pants should sit at your waist. Your student should not be able to tell whether you prepare boxers or briefs. Either buy pants that fit or buy a belt and use it.
*Shirts: Do the bend over test in front of a mirror. This is what your students see when you bend over their desk to help them. Ask a friend to look at you from behind when you bend over. Does your shirt come up and show skin or underwear? This is what your students will see when you bend over a desk. Shirts should be modest in design and material. Save the see-through material or spaghetti straps for your personal time.
*Hair and makeup: Hair should be clean. Your makeup and hairstyle should not detract from the learning environment. Save Easter egg hair colors and mohawks for your personal time, not school hours.
Do you have any advice to give future student teachers?