It’s that time of year again: desks have been assigned, daily routines are being established, and September is in full swing. The dynamic of the brand-new school year is powerful. The lingering summer allows for a gentle transition into the newness, and positive energy abounds. The school year has started.
Only this year will be slightly different than past years, because this year, you have decided to take on a student teacher. A bright-eyed, eager, engaged young adult who has found education as their calling. Who is looking at you with a mixture of enthusiasm and uncertainty. Whose career is just around the corner, but not quite here yet. You have been trusted by their college or university to bridge the gap between their classroom learning experiences and real world, practical application. Along with the daily rigors of classroom teaching, you have graciously agreed to become a mentor, a guide, and a leader to the future of the profession. Whether you are a seasoned supervising teacher, or this is your first go at it, here are 5 useful hints for making the most of this unique mentoring experience, for both you and your student teacher.
1. Get Connected. The majority of student teachers will enter the experience slightly anxious. Will they have what it takes? Will the teacher and students like them? These questions, and more self-doubting fears, often underscore their first few weeks in the classroom. In our world of constant connectedness, it is important to find a comfortable way to reach out to your student teacher early in the experience, outside of school hours. During the first day, or even beforehand if possible, reach out and ask your student teacher their easiest form of quick communication. Most will prefer text messaging. If this is the case, send them a text that evening: a friendly welcome, making your excitement for their presence known. This will form a positive connection early, and also open an easy and direct line of communication. It can be a quick way for your student teacher to check in, asking questions about lesson plans or content. Furthermore, if a problem arises later, it can be more easily resolved through the relationship you’ve developed.
2. Be Direct. Because of their tentativeness, many beginning student teachers will wait until they are asked to do something before they do it. This is not because they are lazy; rather, they have an innate fear of stepping on your toes early in the experience. Like your younger students, they are also acclimating to the routine and gaining understanding of your expectations. When you’d like them to do something, directly ask them. They will eagerly perform any task you ask of them, and most will begin to come out of their shells quickly.
3. Be a learner. Enter the experience with an open mind, willing to let go of the reigns a bit. Your student teacher has spent the last 3- 4 years studying current pedagogy and newest practices. They have read countless articles and texts, and been exposed to cutting edge classroom technology. While they are there to learn from your expertise, you may find that you’ll learn from them as well, if you’re willing to step aside at times.
4. Model the reflective process, and give honest feedback. It is critically important for your student teacher to see your mistakes, as this will allow them to better reflect on their own. As all educators know, an enormous part of the teaching and learning process is trial and error, reflection and revision. Let your student teacher be a part of this. Think out loud when your lesson doesn’t quite go as planned. After the lesson, talk to your student teacher about what you will change for the follow-up. This will create a safe space for your student teacher to take an active role in the reflective process after their own lessons. After they teach, tell them your opinion about what they did well, and be positive but honest about improvements they could make.
5. Treat your student teacher like a peer. Unless you have a non-traditional college student who is in the middle of a career change, you most likely have a young adult student teaching in your classroom. This young person is on the brink of true adulthood, and all of the greatness and challenges that come along with it. They want nothing more than to be trusted by you, someone they see as a superior. Confide in your student teacher, set high expectations, and value their opinions and ideas about the learning environment you are co-managing. Treat them like a trusted colleague. The more they feel like a “real” teacher, the more they will actually begin to become one!
Please remember each day that your service to the future of our profession is incredibly meaningful. Happy School Year, to you and your student teacher!
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.