Whether you’re looking forward to it or dreading it, one experience stands between all fresh-faced, dreamy-eyed education students and a classroom of their own: student teaching.
Adjusting to a full workday schedule, and balancing lesson planning and grading with coursework, are new challenges for the student teacher—and the second, finding a balance, will likely take a few years to get the hang of. Discovering your own teaching and classroom management style is another long-term project. Student teaching also comes with the unique challenge of sharing a group of students with your cooperating teacher.
Student teaching will never be easy, but these simple lifestyle and mindset changes that I picked up on the fly can help you stay positive and growth-focused throughout your placement.
5 Tips for Student Teachers
1. Keep a teaching journal. Record the successes as well as the flops of each day. You can use a physical journal—break out those colorful grading pens—or a word processor like Google Docs. I love using the app Day One, which organizes daily entries and has spots to upload pictures or files.
Building a habit of journaling each day will help you decompress after stressful moments, and looking back on previous entries will help you become a reflective teacher. There’s nothing more fulfilling than looking back weeks or months later and seeing how much you’ve grown—both as a teacher and as a person.
2. Be a filter of feedback, not a sponge. From hard-to-hear critiques by college supervisors or cooperating teachers to unforeseen classroom disasters, it’s easy to feel discouraged in your placement. Instead of internalizing these negative experiences, try filtering them with questions like “What’s one thing I can change based on this feedback?” and “How will making this change help my students grow?”
Learn from your mistakes and then move on. I often had to remind myself that I was still a student teacher—just as I encouraged my students to have a growth mindset, I needed to give myself grace to grow from my mistakes, too.
3. Invest time in a passion or hobby unrelated to school. As a beginning teacher, it’s all too easy to let your afternoons and weekends be devoured by lesson planning or college coursework. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to show up in your classroom with the energy and passion you need. As my school’s superintendent advised, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
What is one nonteaching activity that refreshes and energizes you? Maybe it’s running or doing yoga, or something creative like writing poetry, making art, or baking. It could be something as simple as having coffee with a friend. Whatever it is, make time every day to take care of you. Your students will appreciate your showing up with a full cup, rather than drained and overwhelmed.
4. Recruit cheerleaders. I feel that one of my most important roles as a teacher is to be my students’ biggest encourager—and I have found that I need people to do the same for me. My advice here is: Make it a point to find a teaching mentor who shows enthusiasm and lasting passion for the profession. Maybe this is your supervising teacher, or another teacher down the hall that you get to know in the lunchroom. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be honest about difficult moments.
Borrowing a metaphor from Jennifer Gonzalez, I think of these mentors as marigolds because simply being close to them helps you grow stronger. Teachers like this will inspire you to keep going on hard days and will celebrate your growth right alongside you.
5. Remember your why. Craft a mission statement for your teaching career. Reflect on these questions:
- Why do you want to be a teacher? Of all the various career paths, why did you pick this one?
- What’s one moment you’ve had with a student that makes you think, “This is all worth it”?
Next, finish the statement, “I am a teacher because...” and commit it to memory—better yet, write it down and put it on your desk at school and a mirror at home.
I also started to keep notes from students and sticky notes with funny classroom quotes that reminded me of my why. Holding on to the core reasons you are teaching will help you push through the daily stresses and emerge a stronger teacher on the other side. The first few years of solo teaching will come with their own set of challenges, so think of student teaching as great practice for staying focused on what really matters: making a difference in your students’ lives.
These five simple tips will help you stay reflective, rested, and resilient as you launch into your career. Just remember, student teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. These are your very first students and your first coworker relationships—don’t underestimate the impact you can have on them, or the lasting impact they will have on you.