When I planned this blog, I pictured some sort of blended authorship between my student teacher and I to start off the year. Instead, I must admit the blog turned into a bit of a monster. So, I saved it (unintentionally) for Halloween.
I met my current student teacher a year ago. I have mentored new teachers, but never a student teacher. Fearing he would find my guidance subpar, I warned the poor candidate about my lack of experience and understanding of the edTPA assessment, yet he continued with the observation period. As it turned out, we both had a lot to learn.
At first, he wasn’t certain he had chosen the right life path. It seemed that the theoretical world of methods and ed courses were entrenched in rules and regulations filled with standards, learning targets, testing, and data tracking. Certainly there was talk of relationship and rigor, but it must have been tough to envision a lively, creative, welcoming classroom he would want to teach in (let alone students would want to learn in).
As we worked together last year, my student teacher let me know that his faith in his choice had been restored as he experienced co-teaching in an organic setting, where both the science and the art of teaching (that is to say: the content, the delivery, and the nurturing of relationships) came together in a beautiful, messy, tough, satisfying sort of cacophonous euphony. You know, a real life classroom.
To my delight, he came back this fall to student teach. He has done a marvelous job; this is not to say there haven’t been struggles — luckily, one of his greatest strengths is his reflective resiliency. And his genuine love of the students in our classes. Most of late September and early October, we were mired in the edTPA process which felt stilted and stress-filled, even though we worked hard to stick to the lesson plans he sketched.
Part of the problem was that life at school kept happening: unexpected send off assemblies, absenteeism, kids who mugged for the camera, fickle technology, interruptions for announcements, etc. Fitting the required blend of standards and methods into short video clips and essays felt less than authentic. The project was billed to student teachers at their weekly university check-ins as a “mini-National Boards.” Good grief I thought, no pressure there! Having completed Boards, I can honestly say I think my stress level would be higher trying to complete the edTPA in the time-frame given! I applaud the tenacity of anyone who makes it through in one piece.
I wonder, had this process been required when I went through my student teaching experience, how I would have fared. I was a young, single mother who felt the world on my shoulders. But I had incredible support from my ed program and my mentor teachers. We risk dissuading excellent candidates if we make the process of certification and/or the work of teaching seem like an endless litany of the less important aspects of the vocation.
Education professionals are seeing the value of engaging students in meaningful innovation, discovery, and self-direction, none of which impede high expectations, standards based growth, or data informed delivery. Those same values are surely true for the next generation of teachers. It is my sincere hope that teacher preparation programs are infusing candidate experiences with the joy, the mess, the fun of teaching. Tools are important; people are more important. Future teachers absolutely need to have quantity and quality time in classrooms where they can take risks, invest in kids and communities, and put pedagogy “in its place.”
So, here’s where I admit there have been a few shadows involved in this journey of mentoring a student teacher, but there has been a lot more magic. Giving up time with my students has been difficult for me, yet I’ve learned that I genuinely enjoy co-teaching. I’ve been so impressed by this young man’s zest and commitment to each student’s academic and personal growth, and by his willingness to fall in love with learning the subject matter all over again. I am going to miss him when his time with us ends, but I can’t wait to see the dynamic classroom he’ll lead in the near future.
13 Frightfully Good Tips for Mentors of Student Teachers:
- Burn Out: share your favorite strategies for avoiding this vampire, model saying no, insist they take time for themselves and their families, bring them food.
- Co-teaching: there are several excellent models, try some and make it work for you. Here’s one to get you started — http://collaborativeteaching.weebly.com/co-teaching-models.html
- Don’t solve every problem, remember — mistakes are good and everyone will make it out alive: if this is hard, leave the room for a while and let them work through the issue. Debrief later.
- Focus on relationships: start the modeling with your student teacher — treat them with respect, treat them like a trusted colleague, treat them like a friend, treat them like they are a leader in your eyes. Include them in relationship building with students and encourage them to think reflectively about the classroom dynamic and their individual connections with students. Encourage them to get involved in the school community outside the classroom, but keep an eye on tip #1.
- Art/Science ahas: Do the data together, but really focus on delivering praise when the art and the science of the work is coming together.
- No need to reinvent the wheel: Share your stuff. Encourage them to find great online resources and to hack other great teachers’ best stuff. Let them tweak it all.
- Becoming a wheelwright means you’ve got invent some wheels: Let them try something new (you might get a great new resource!). Encourage them to create a delivery or assessment method and the materials to go with from scratch. Help them celebrate or retool; remind them sometimes your grand ideas fly and sometimes they flop. Both outcomes are good.
- Balance is everything: Remember how you felt when you began teaching — the world of theory and the bright, shiny, smooth running classroom of your collegiate dreams are not the realities of the trenches. Rein in with kindness when needed — questions are better than statements most of the time.
- Throw a party: When great learning happens, edTPA or other requirements are achieved, or the end of your time together comes, celebrate in a fun and memorable way.
- Mentoring at its best causes the mentee to outgrow the mentor so that two colleagues are left standing shoulder to shoulder.
Thanks for reading,