In a previous two-post series I wrote about the challenges of retaining good teachers (Part 1 and Part 2). In another recent post Alecia McAdams-Sing wrote about her experience with a student teacher. One of the best ways to get and retain a great teacher is to “build through the draft” by getting a student teacher with potential and giving them strong training and mentorship.
This is my 5th year of teaching, so based on some definitions this is my last year as a new teacher. I may be in a unique position of having enough experience to be able to share a relatively matured viewpoint on a forum with reach the size of CORElaborate, but still recently enough removed from the student teaching experience to vividly remember my first round of kiddos.
I did my student teaching experience at Graham Kapowsin High School and was fortunate enough (or as Bruno Mars says, #blessed) to have two mentor teachers – shoutout to Joanna Stewart and Steve White. Both had fairly different teaching and classroom management styles, and both taught different slices of clientele, and those variations gave me essentially two student teaching experiences.
Below is going to be, in the form of a two-part wish list / ransom note, a series of “requests” from a generic student teacher to their mentor teacher. These are based on a variety of experiences and thoughts I’ve personally had, as well as conversations with other new teachers. I should make clear though, that I’m eternally grateful for the job my two mentor teachers did (as well as the rest of the GK science staff), and clearly they did something right with me if I’m still in the business – right?
Requests from a Student Teacher to their Mentor:
- Ask me a highlight and a lowlight from the day, at the end of that day. (Or at the end of each class). Depending on what kind of person I am, one of those two should come easily, but the other one is something I need to be forced to work on. Every class should have a bright point, whether it’s something a student said or an “a-ha” moment – those are the moments that teachers need to be able to find and focus on, otherwise they’ll burn out and feel teaching is an unrewarding burden. However, every teacher should also be able to find something to improve upon during every class. There’s always a chance for more student talk, or streamlining a transition better, or a new way to sequence the topics for that two-day stretch of the unit. A plant that isn’t growing is a plant that’s started dying.
- Make me learn the students’ names. And if I have trouble, help me develop tricks to remember them. Names are important to establishing a personal relationship with kids. Once you know their names, you have a foundation to build that shared interest upon. There’s Bryan the Chargers fan. Evan who loves Reel Big Fish. Taylor who does a mean job of playing the Jack Johnson song “Taylor” on guitar. It’s one of those things that no one notices when you do well, but the kids for sure notice when you don’t know their names – and nothing’s worse than being cold-called by a kid who asks you “do you remember my name?” when you don’t. (Which, side note, is why you shouldn’t cold-call kids in class unless you’re sure they’ve had a chance to get the right answer).
But if you don’t know, odds are her name is Madison. There’s usually at least one Madison in every class.
- Make me watch other teachers. Your teaching style is lovely and works well for a person with your personality. Maybe mine is the same and we’re a match made in heaven. Regardless, student teaching time is by far the best opportunity to see how others teach and pick up on the little things that teachers never remember to share with other teachers. A great way to get formative assessment data at the end of class. Someone who has a hard-to-describe technique that gets shy kids to speak up confidently. A teacher that has an easy to maintain and clearly understood procedure for absent kids. Fellow Teacher Leader Aaron Brecek wrote about the benefits of peer observation in March. All of these benefits hold true for brand new teachers.
Part 2, with at least tips #4-7, will be coming later in December – but if you have any tips (or want to predict what else I’ll write), leave them in the comments!
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