Advice from Former Student Teachers To Future Student Teachers
Article by Kristi Fowler, Ph.D.
For most student teachers, the student teaching experience is both the exciting culmination of several years of study and the most nerve-racking part of their teacher education program. In speaking with almost any student teacher after completing the student teaching experience, the university supervisor hears comments concerning what these newly minted teachers would tell those students who are about to go through the student teaching experience. Such insights, borne of fresh memories, represent a wonderful opportunity for avoiding some likely bumps and starting the student teaching placement ahead of the game.
Before the Student Teaching Experience
Former student teachers offered a variety of advice for those students preparing to student teach. Typically, the tips concerned either relations and communication with others in the school setting, or instructional/classroom management issues.
Several former student teachers suggested observing in the school before student teaching. Wrote one student teacher, "Knowing where to go, recognizing a few faces, even knowing where to park were helpful" bits of knowledge to ease entry into the school setting. Particularly important, make an effort to meet your supervising teacher before you show up for the first day of your placement. You will both be glad you made the effort and your initiative will be sure to set the right tone.
Another former student teacher suggested talking to others who have student taught. Often this contact can be both comforting and informational for the student getting ready for the student teaching experience. Still other former student teachers recommended talking to "real life" teachers to prepare for student teaching. Certainly, the more opportunities you have to talk to practitioners, the more ideas you will have about how the teaching profession works before you are actually expected to begin teaching.
Find out if your supervising teacher has had prior experience with student teachers. While one student teacher felt the experience ultimately turned out "okay", she indicated on her survey she would have liked to have known her supervising teacher had no prior experience. Though prior experience with student teachers isn't necessarily an indicator of the success of placement, the knowledge that the supervising teacher is learning along with you can make both of you feel more comfortable with the situation.
Though your supervising teacher might not feel comfortable exposing what she knows about school politics to a student teacher right away, former student teachers suggest trying to learn what you most need to know about personnel relations. Don't be afraid to ask questions about people and their preferences. However, be careful to seek professional knowledge; don't let your inquiries appear to invite gossip. Knowing something about various personalities can help you avoid stepping on toes.
One student teacher had to deal, on a fairly frequent basis, with a parent who had doubts about her abilities. This problem was not one she had anticipated and she felt unprepared to reassure this mother. Her advice to new student teachers included finding out if parents have been informed about the presence of the student teacher and whether parents have expressed trepidation so the student teacher and the supervising teacher can discuss how to handle various parental concerns.
On a personal note, former student teachers found out they needed to learn how to manage stress. All teachers, indeed all people, handle stress differently. Don't be afraid to let your supervising teacher know you're feeling a bit pressured. Without seeming as though you are complaining, ask your supervising teacher to share strategies for managing stress. Stress levels will naturally be high during your student teaching experience and the sooner you learn what works for you in handling stress, the more likely it is you will last longer and be happier in the profession.
During the Student Teaching Experience
Student teachers especially want to know what is expected of them. They don't want to guess what the supervising teacher is expecting. If expectations are not made clear to you from the beginning, don't hesitate to ask your supervising teacher to tell you exactly what she expects. He or she might not have thought fully about what those expectations are and might need to clarify them before being able to share them with you. Some supervising teachers are willing to let a student teacher try anything and will express very few specific expectations. Other supervising teachers will have many ideas about how they want things done. Ideally, your supervising teacher will fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, allowing you to implement your own ideas and develop your own style but also providing some helpful parameters and feedback.
Try to get an idea of long-range instructional goals for the year. Ask about pacing so you can identify the most important information and be sure to cover it in depth. You might feel, like many teachers, pressured to cover material in a limited amount of time. You will want to be sure you cover the most critical information and will probably need to ask for some direction to determine precisely what material is most crucial.
Student teachers consistently express concerns about classroom management issues. They all have doubts about how they will handle problems which will inevitably arise in the classroom. You will want to talk to your supervising teacher about which students will likely be a challenge, and what strategies have worked for your supervising teacher in the past. Also, ask for feedback about how situations might have been handled better when they do occur.
Former student teachers worried a lot about differentiating instruction. Differentiating instruction can be a difficult and time-consuming process so former student teachers advise you to ask a lot of questions about how it works in the real world. Ask about concrete practices that have proven effective for your supervising teacher. You'll probably have the same concerns about meeting the Standards of Learning. Again, ask questions about effective lessons and techniques for conveying the information students will need to pass the standardized tests.
In general, don't be afraid to ask, diplomatically and tactfully, for what you want from your student teaching experience. If you want to take on more responsibilities, ask when you might be able to do so. If you want to explore your supervising teacher's files and resources, ask politely if you may; your supervising teacher might assume you're interested only in materials related specifically to what you are teaching. If you want to sit in on meetings or parent-teacher conferences, let your supervising teacher know. Supervising teachers have been told you should participate in ALL school-related activities, but they might forget. Remind them you want to learn all you can. Taking the initiative and your sincere efforts to learn to be a good teacher will make your placement a positive experience for everyone involved.
Note: This article is based on a research study of education students who recently completed their student teaching experience through Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.
Related Article: Advice from Former Student Teachers To Supervising Teachers
About the Author
Dr. Kristi Fowler is currently enjoying her first year as an assistant professor of education at Hollins University. She teaches courses in education and supervises student teachers in the school systems in and around Roanoke, Virginia. She also presents occasional guest lectures for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where she received all her degrees. In addition to her work as an educator, her interests include her family, a small horse farm in Bedford owned by her and her husband, gardening, and reading.
Published: January 2002