Ahh, student teaching, what a joy. Student teaching is hard and tough, but so so good and so rewarding. If you are looking how to thrive (and survive) as a student teacher, keep on reading!
The majority of my senior year was spent student teaching. At Samford, they started putting us in the classrooms early. As soon as our freshman and sophomore year of college, the education program put us in classrooms to observe classrooms. I was very blessed to be able to have so much exposure so early in college. My junior year, my college had a partnership with another elementary school and we were able to student teach or have “field experience” one day a week with that partnering school. Then, senior year hit and the real student teaching began.
My senior year, we had normal class for the first 9 weeks or so, until October, and then we had our final exams and were thrown into student teaching. My oh my, was it a hard transition. The first week in October, we were placed in our Special Education student teaching placement for nine weeks. It was such a great time and I am so thankful that we had that student teaching placement. If you don’t know, I graduated with four certifications from our education program- elementary education, early childhood, special education, and collaborative education- truly, what a blessing! After the nine weeks was complete, the semester came to a close and the next semester brought on a whole new student teaching experience.
My second semester (last semester in college, what?!!!), we had a schedule of three placements: 8 weeks in upper elementary, 3 weeks in lower elementary, and then 3 in a preschool (early childhood) setting. In the upper elementary setting, I was placed in fourth grade with a teacher that I absolutely loved, and whom I am still close with. We text regularly! The second placement, I was in first grade with a wonderful teacher! The third placement, I was in a daycare setting with one year olds- such cuties!
Student teaching was so hard in the moment, but my oh my, was it good. I learned so much and I honestly miss it. I miss learning from my cooperating teacher, I miss the first day of student teaching, when I was so scared and nervous, and I miss being with all of my friends at school.
Student teaching is a weird transition from regular school. It’s basically like work, but you don’t get paid. Ha. I would get to school around 7:15, meet my cooperating teacher in the room, and start the day. I would basically shadow my teacher, help her out, take notes (mental notes and actual notes), and get to know the kids. At the beginning, I would shadow my cooperating teacher, ask her if she needed help with anything, and I would ask LOTS of questions. Asking questions is my number one tip during student teaching, along with being considerate and prompt. Most of the teachers that you work with during your student teaching placement are very experienced and they are so wise. After all, they are the ones who got hired, who have a an actual job, and you are still a student. You are still learning. Anyways, after all of that rambling, here’s a compiled list of what you should do in student teaching to survive, and what I learned.
- Ask questions. As I mentioned earlier, you should always ask questions. Even if your questions sound silly, ask them. Ask why your CT does things a certain way, ask your CT what she/he would do in a certain scenario, etc. I was lucky enough that my CT explained everything that she did, from emails to parents, to classroom management, to walking kids to specials. Ask lots of questions and keep your curiosity.
- Show up early, stay late. Nothing shows that you care like showing up early and staying late. Showing that you care to your CT will go a long way. I would often show up before my CT and I would be waiting on her for when she got to school. It makes a lasting impression, trust me. I had some friends who were late to their placements, and it was not good. Their teachers were not impressed and they were often not happy. In the afternoons, all you want to do is go home and take a nap, but go the extra mile and stay as late as your CT does. Offer to grade papers, help prepare for the next day, or just stay there to chat and ask questions while your CT works. Even when my CT asked me if I wanted to leave, I insisted on staying or working on something at school because A, I wanted to learn as much as I could, and B, I wanted to show my CT that I wanted to make the student teaching count.
- Offer to help in any way that you can. For some reason, this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s totally okay! When I first arrived in my classroom, I didn’t just sit back and watch the whole day. Yes, I would sit back and observe while she taught sometimes, but when I had nothing to do, I would offer to make copies, to laminate, to organize, or to grade. Your CT will appreciate you offering, even if she/he doesn’t need anything copied, labeled, organized or graded. Most of the time, he/she will need something done. Teachers are busy. You might have some grunt work, but that comes with being a teacher and you can make it fun. Always keep that smile on your face!
- Stay organized. As much as I would love to say that I am an organized person, I am one of those “organized chaos” types of people. I start out organized and then everything gets mixed up because I don’t put things in their place. I didn’t do this, but I would recommend having a binder with dividers for all things student teaching. Put resources directly in the binder, make a calendar for student teaching, and try your best to stay organized. I didn’t do this perfectly, nor very well, but I really think it could’ve taken stress out of student teaching when I couldn’t find a worksheet that I needed that day.
- Keep in contact with your CT. I made sure to get my CT’s phone number and email on the first day. I asked her if she preferred to be contacted via email or phone, and all of my CTs said that they wanted to text instead of email. I would send texts to my CT if I knew I would be running late because of parking (even if I thought I would be 20 seconds late), and I would text her my game plans or questions during my full two weeks of student teaching. Being transparent and keeping in contact with your CT will save you. It’s hard when there’s no communication because things get lost in translation and it’s hard to keep a good relationship with your CT.
- Collect as many resources as you can. I would take pictures of everything. I wouldn’t have my phone out constantly, but I would always ask my CT if I could take a picture of something, like a worksheet or her classroom, or an anchor chart that she made. I really liked uploading worksheets as PDFs in Dropbox to stay organized. That way, I could use the PDFs later and just print them out as normal worksheets, if I needed them.
- Take pictures. This kind of goes with the above. I took pictures of everything I liked and wanted to remember. Make sure that your teacher knows the reason your phone is out, though.
- Keep confidentiality. This is H U G E. Keeping confidentiality is such a hard thing to do, especially since everyone posts everything on social media. Always black out a child’s name from a worksheet, never take pictures of kids without blurring their face (don’t even take pictures of kids, honestly), and don’t talk about your CT or students in any negative (or positive sometimes) light to anyone else. Your student teaching experience is YOUR experience and you aren’t meant to talk about it with anyone else. If you talk bad about your CT in the school, it’ll probably get back to her. If you talk poorly about a child, someone will hear and it will be bad. I’ve never had experience with this, but my CT stressed the importance of maintaining your integrity of keeping things to yourself and not blabbing. Keep a journal if you need to talk about something or talk about a kid. If you are really frustrated, maybe talk to your professor. IF you do talk about a kid or a story, PLEASE change the name and make it clear that you changed the name. For example, this is how it could go… “So I was in my student teaching placement the other day, and this kid, let’s call him Johnny, was raising his hand,” etc. Make it clear that you have changed the student’s name. Better yet, call students, “Student A,” or “Student B.” It makes it easier in the long run.
- Don’t get caught up with drama. This goes along with the advice above, but don’t get caught up in drama, with your classmates who are also student teaching, or even with the faculty at the school you are working with. Don’t gossip and don’t talk about people! Keep things to yourself.
- Learn how to be flexible! This was a MAJOR lesson for me during student teaching. It’s really easy to have a perfect plan and then your plan crashes and fails and you are stuck with 25 kids staring at you, waiting for you to tell them what to do. It’s scary and it’s a good growing and learning time. As a teacher, you’ll learn that being flexible is so important. Learn to think on your feet. When something goes wrong, problem solve, don’t even think about crying or getting upset. It happens to literally everyone. Some days you just have to switch lessons up and make up a lesson on the spot. All of your school has prepared you for this and has prepared you to create lessons, so do it. You’ll be fine, I promise.
- Be over prepared for lessons. Along with being flexible, be prepared. There was this one time during my full time of student teaching (This is a time where I taught for 10 consecutive days straight all by myself. I planned it all, I got all of the resources, and I taught it all.) where I was planning to make copies for a lesson that day, but the copier was broken. Great. I had to think on my feet, and since I was prepared for the next day’s lesson, and I had it all planned out (or mostly…), I was able to switch up the days that I taught each lesson. Be over prepared for lessons. Have things in mind in case your lesson is too short. Have a plan A and a Plan B, but also know that you might have to just wing it and that’s perfectly okay.
- Get to know the schedule and the kids’ names. I made this my goal during the first week of my student teaching placement. It’s really special to the kids (and your CT!), when you learn their names. It shows good rapport and it make the kids feel important. Don’t you like people calling you by your name? It makes you feel special. A perk to learning the school and the schedule quickly is that you can offer to take the kids to their specials, which is so helpful to your CT.
- Welcome feedback. One of the major things that I did was to ask for positive and constructive feedback. I would ask my CT what I could improve on in all aspects in the classroom. I would ask for her honest advice. I found myself asking her what I could improve on mostly, since I wanted to grow and learn. Since I was the one asking for constructive feedback, it was easier hearing things to improve on, and it didn’t feel like an attack. Some people hate negative feedback that helps them grow because they feel like their work or their character is attacked, but if you welcome that feedback and you ask for it, truly wanting to learn and grow, it’s such a good thing. After all, you want to be the best teacher you can be. Take constructive criticism and make goals. If my teacher said that I needed to speak up in the classroom, I made sure to do that and then later she would compliment me on how I improved and took her advice to heart. Constructive criticism and critical feedback is SO important.
- Don’t have your phone out. I mentioned this before, but please don’t have your phone out unless you have permission or unless you’re clear about what you’re doing (like taking photos). Most people assume that you’re browsing social media or texting if you’re on your phone, and that does not leave a good impression. It looks like you don’t care and it looks like you don’t want to be there.
- Make copies in advance. My CT liked to make copies after school and in a week in advance. This was so great because when everyone would leave at the end of the day, we stayed and made copies, which actually saved a lot of time. This was a key component in being over prepared and being ready for your lessons.
- Dress professionally and dress smart. For me, it was really hard to find how to dress for student teaching. Every school has a different dress code and different expectations, so finding what you can wear can be tricky. I always say to err on the side of caution. Most days I would either wear a conservative dress (longer than your fingertips and with sleeves, not tight), or some pants (or colored jeans) with a nicer shirt. It’s probably a smart idea to start building your teacher wardrobe. Wear clothes that are cute, but that you wouldn’t cry about if they got ruined if a student got paint on you, for example. I get most of my teacher clothes at Loft! They have the BEST clothes!
- Take Initiative. Don’t wait until you’re asked to do something. Take initiative and take the kids to their specials when your CT is busy talking to another teacher. Start the lesson if your teacher is busy talking to another student. Take the reigns and help out as you can.
- Remember that you’re still a student. Remember that you aren’t the teacher and that your role is just a student teacher. You will fail. You will have hard days. It’s okay. It’s all okay. The reason you’re in student teaching placements is to learn, and that’s what you’re doing. You aren’t there to be perfect, you’re there to practice in a safe environment, to get the feel of things, and to learn. Remember that when you fail (because you will, sorry.).
You are 100% capable of this. You are going to do great at student teaching. If you are about to go into student teaching, I really truly hope that this was helpful. I learned so much from student teaching and could honestly make this list so much longer, but as I’m already over 2,000 words, I think I’m at a good stopping point. Please feel free to reach out, should you have any questions or comments or requests! I hope that y’all are now pros on how to thrive (and survive) as a student teacher! Y’all have got this!