HOW TO BE THE BEST STUDENT TEACHER EVER
Four years. I cannot believe it has been four years since I wrote a blog post.
A lot has happened in my teaching career over the past four years. I moved schools. I now primarily teach English. I’ve read some transformative teaching books. and I’ve recently been inspired by a teacher Youtuber and a great teacher blogger. But none of this compares to having the whole circle of life turned upside down and belly up when I became a mentor teacher to two student teachers.
Two student teachers!
Two days ago was the last day with my second student teacher, who was a pleasure to have in my classroom. For all of you education majors gearing up for student teaching, let me tell you what my latest student teacher did to be the best student teacher ever.
MY TOP 10 TIPS FOR STUDENT TEACHERS
- SHOW UP ON TIME- Tardiness is epidemic these days. As someone who is nearly always on time, lateness grinds my gears.
- DRESS LIKE YOU CARE- Yes, you are a young student. But you want to be a respected teacher. Dress like it. Know full well that your mentor teacher—no matter how sloppily he or she dresses—is judging your wrinkled tee and your ripped jeans. It’s not fair, but it’s worth repeating: No matter how progressive, cool, or hip your mentor teacher may seem, he or she is charged with sifting the golden nuggets from the pebbles of the teaching world, and like it or not, your dress is part of that sifting. Be golden.
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK- Before you even set foot into your school, contact your mentor teacher and ask what you can do to be prepared for your first day. Chances are your mentor teacher will be relieved that you have a plan and have read the curriculum or standards documents before you enter his or her classroom.
- BE READY TO WORK- The education world attracts the best people and the worst people. On one hand, you have the best people—the teachers who are idealistic, sensitive, and willing to put in the work. These teachers really care about students. Then, on the other hand, you have the worst people—the teachers who got into teaching because they exhausted other options, loved the idea of summers off, and will put in as little work as possible. These teachers really do not care about students. If you belong to the first category of teachers, you deserve to stay. Demonstrate that you are in teaching for the right reasons by working for your certification: prepare your own lessons as much as you can, put effort into your lessons; get to know your students; have your photocopies ready; ask meaningful questions; come in early—all these actions show your mentor teacher you mean business.
- LISTEN TO ADVICE- Back when I was a student teacher, I had a lot of (in retrospect) idiotic ideas, but I did have one thing going for me: I trusted life experience. Listen to your mentor’s advice. Don’t discount your mentor’s advice as hateful, spiteful, or “old school.” Your teacher has been in the trenches. He or she has fought the war. You are a fresh-faced recruit who has been playing video games. You may have an idea of what the battle field looks like, but have no idea what it feels like and tastes like. No educational psychology textbook will prepare you for the middle school bullies, the stench of post-Phys Ed B.O., or the first paper ball thrown in your direction. Trust experience. Take notes.
- GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS- I don’t care if you are a hardcore introvert and would rather spend hours contemplating the intricacies of your navel rather than talking to another living human being. Teaching is a social profession; it is a people profession. Do your best to get to know the students. If you’re quiet, aim for one-on-one conversations. Smile—either show your teeth or don’t—whatever suits you, but smile. Stand by the door as students come in and say “hello.” As you monitor the halls, make some head nods.Talk to students about what they’re writing, reading, playing, thinking. I don’t expect you to be a class clown holding the attention of all with your witty banter, one-liner jokes, and general coolness—just be interested.
- ACT LIKE AN ADULT- I understand. Just yesterday you were waxing poetic about Marxism and the plight of the underdog in Social Justice 101; you organized rallies on your university campus to defend the local misfits de jour; you care deeply about justice, love, and peace. But for God’s sake, be an adult in the classroom. Know that identifying with the students as underdogs who need your sweetness, kindness, best friend vibes, and lax “live and let live” attitude is not doing them any favours and will unravel your classroom management. Students don’t need another friend. They have friends. What they need is an adult who sees that they are working below their potential and is willing to push them to reach that potential. They need an adult who is willing to be tough, if that’s what it takes. Be that adult. That is how you love them.
- MAKE YOUR MENTOR’ S LIFE EASIER, NOT HARDER—This is probably my most important piece of advice. Ask yourself this question: In general, is my presence in the classroom a help or a hindrance? Am I a helper, or more like a dementor from J. K. Rowling’s novels, sucking the life out of all around me? Be honest when you answer. I would say I oscillated, as a student teacher, between being a helper and dementor. As for you– you decide to be a helper: get your teacher photocopies, get coffee from the staff room, take the students to the library, mark tests, help plan a field trip– do not consider these actions beneath you. These little acts of kindness make your mentor teacher’s life easier, and they make you indispensable.
- FINISH THE JOB- Anything you start, finish. If you assigned it, mark it. The last thing your mentor teacher wants– what any sane person does not want– is to hunt students down for marks, or to look at yet another assignment. After you leave, your teacher should be able to teach.
- SHOW YOUR GRATITUDE- I don’t care how you do it. Just be sure to say “thank you” to your mentor teacher. He or she will really appreciate it. Teachers aren’t thanked often. And I hope your mentor teacher thanks you too.
If you follow the above advice, you’ll be the best student teacher to ever set foot into your school. You will not get any accolades or any awards. But I promise you: you will have found a treasured spot in your mentor teacher’s heart.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: