In November I wrote the first post from this two-part series meant to help prospective teachers find success as student teachers. The better the student teaching experience is, both in quality and in preparation for the career, the more likely a student teacher will successfully complete the transformation into a full-fledged teacher. Below is the rest of the request list, from a “new” teacher to their mentor.
- Offer material to start with. How many teachers remember feeling endlessly supported and valued when their master teacher said on the first day “I’ll be in the break room. Don’t get me unless it’s an emergency.” Some mentor teachers justify doing the same thing to their new student teachers by saying phrases like “That’s how I started teaching, and I turned out just fine.”
Is “fine” all that we want for our kids?
Student teaching is stressful enough. There’s more than enough for a new teacher to juggle with classroom management, learning students’ names, and grading alone. Throw on top the coursework they’re doing for certification – in Washington it’s the edTPA, which has been compared to the National Boards in terms of time commitment and difficulty. Imagine going through National Boards with two new preps at a brand new school. Now imagine that every time you wanted to use one of your favorite tools from your toolbox (finger vote, red/yellow/green cards, popsicle sticks, etc) you had to wait 5 minutes to figure out how to do it, and it had a 60% chance of succeeding with that population? Stressful, right?
Giving a student teacher materials (slides, handouts, online activities, labs, etc) to start with isn’t the easy way out – it helps with the teaching process, just a different part of the process. Because for most of our careers, instead of teaching multiple new preps, we’re taking work from the previous year and modifying it. Self-reflection and refining is a much more useful skill to build than creating something new without any help.
- Emphasize the social aspect of teaching and the importance of building a network / support group. In many jobs, the only reason people stay is because of their co-workers. They can help you through the tough times, sympathize, and offer solutions to your problems. But new teachers don’t often know the social norms at a building. Think of your student teacher like a guest you brought to a party – sure, you could just leave them at the door and some of them could become the center of attention. But if you want to make sure they have an enjoyable experience, it helps to bring them around the room, introduce them to a few people that might have shared common interests/experiences, and see if they click. You could try to be the sole arbiter of information and advice to your teacher, but that puts a lot of pressure and stress on you as a mentor and doesn’t help them develop the skill of building a network in a school and navigating the social context – especially if your student teacher is straight out of undergrad and hasn’t worked in a true workplace yet.. Having a strong network is a critical safety valve to avoid burnout. (And for more tips on avoiding burnout, look at this February post from Alecia McAdams-Sing).
- Make me watch an extra-curricular activity. It could be a football or baseball game, but it could also be a band concert, the school play, or a robotics competition. Something where some of your students are participants. It’s surprising how few teachers have done this, and it’s a strong leverage point (especially for those hard-to-reach kids) to show you’re interested in the things they’re interested in. Even if you can only pop in for the fourth inning, if you’re there when your student crushes a home run and they see you cheering, they can’t help but feel you care. Some teachers don’t go to extra-curriculars for a variety of good reasons, but suggesting to your student teacher to go (and possibly even joining) can help take away the “I’ve never been because I have no idea what to expect and I’m anxious” reason.
- Help me find that special reason I want to be a teacher. Every teacher goes into the business for a reason – but how can we ensure we’re successful at finding that reason every year? If my reason is the “a-ha” moments from kids, what structures can be put in to ensure they show up? If I live to get those hand-written thank you notes from students, how can I set up opportunities for those thank-yous to be written? Is it knowing that if you water the bamboo long enough you’ll get the payoff from a hard-to-reach kid? How do you ensure a new teacher has the persistence and resilience to keep watering? Other than the co-workers, that spark that made us all want to become teachers is the strongest intrinsic motivation we can have to keep us going in the tough times. How can a mentor teacher help teach a student teacher how to cultivate that spark?
I think a mentor’s job is to make sure a student teacher has the tools to become an effective teacher. Tools like self-reflection, building relationships, and avoiding burnout are infinitely more useful than tools like making a unit from scratch and learning how to survive trial by fire. It’s definitely hard work, but if you’re mentoring a student teacher, aren’t they worth it?
While this is my last blog, it has been a fun ride blogging for CORElaborate. I’m eternally grateful to the team for this opportunity to grow and explore my thoughts, as well as anyone and everyone who took a few moments of your life to read and a few more to comment.
Tweets from my teacher life: @mrjequinto
Pictures of my sweet children on Instagram: @fjequinto
Cycle Path image by Rosemary Ratcliff via freedigitalphotos.net
Overwhelmed With Too Many Tasks image by marcolm via freedigitalphotos.net
Mentor header image via geralt at pixabay.com
Latest posts by Francis Jequinto (see all)
- Student Teaching from the Student Teacher Point of View – Part 2 - December 20, 2016
- Student Teaching from the Student Teacher Point of View – Part 1 - November 29, 2016
- Redirecting the Next Gen Science Cruise Ship - October 30, 2016