How to Survive Student Teaching

Ah, student teaching. The penultimate experience for every college student who majors in education. We spend years training for and dreaming of this experience, and all summer long we feel that rush of excitement when we think of how we will soon be impacting potentially hundreds of lives each day.

Then September comes, the excitement continues for about a week – and then reality sets in and you find yourself reminiscing about what life used to be like when you had friends (and money!), as you fall asleep in front of the television at 8:00 while grading a hundred different versions of that really awesome writing assignment that the kids just had to do.

Ah, teaching.

Here are just a few tips and tricks from a current student teacher that will hopefully make your experience as a student teacher a little easier.

1. Get Organized and Develop a System

I have never been someone who has been very well organized,  but organization is key to efficiency. Get a calendar or a planner, and put all the important dates for the semester into it right away – your host teacher should supply you with a calendar for a school year that details vacations, half days, parent-teacher conferences, in-service days, departmental meetings, etc. Write them down right away, or put the alerts into your cell phone well in advance.

You will also have to deal with a constant flow of papers – lesson plans, student assignments, rubrics, worksheets – and you’ll want to have a system in place to keep those things organized. Have trays for each class, and when students hand in their assignments, put those papers in their class tray. Have a similar set of trays for passed-back assignments – when papers are graded, they go into the “outgoing” trays for each class, and the students can help themselves. Put your lesson plans and activities in a binder with a divider for each class. Have a section reserved for important documents – IEPs and 504s, for example. And after I finish all of my planning, I will print my lesson plans for each class (usually a week’s worth) and put them on a clipboard that I keep on my desk, so they are always within an arm’s reach as I’m teaching. At the end of the week, the lesson plans go back into the binder.

2. Be Firm, And Quickly

As a high school (student) teacher, I don’t feel that far removed in age from some of my students. On top of that, despite being 24 years old, I still look quite young. As such, it can sometimes be hard to draw the line between being a relatable, approachable person that the students often view as a “friend” and being the adult authority figure in the classroom.

The thing about this is that you don’t need to have your entire teaching persona figured out right away. That will come later. What you do need to do is establish yourself as the authority in the classroom. This doesn’t have to translate to barking orders – rather, it means letting students know that you mean business. The most important way to convey this to your students is having and enforcing consequences. If you tell your students that you will take their cell phone away if you see them using it in class – take the cell phone away the first time. There should be no “negotiating.” The minute you begin to negotiate is the minute you begin to lose your credibility and the students will start to walk all over you.

As I said, it doesn’t have to be mean. You don’t have to embarrass the student or make it a whole production. If you see a student using their cell phone in class (sticking with the same example), simply walk over to him/her and hold out your hand, but continue to lecture or speak to the rest of the class as you do so. If you notice two students in the back carrying on a side conversation, simply stop what you’re doing and wait – before long the conversation will stop, and you can continue teaching without even having to say a negative word to anybody.

3. Give Prompt Feedback

What this means for a student teacher is keeping on track of given assignments. Stay on top of grading/looking over the work students hand in – homework can be a form of informal, formative assessment. There is no point assigning something and having students turn it in if you aren’t going to promptly turn it around and let them know what they’re doing well, and what needs to be worked on more. Letting it sit in your “to-grade” pile for a week is doing your students no favors, and will only make your life more stressful when that pile continues to grow.

4. Ask For Help

Everyone in the school – really, everyone! – wants to see you succeed. If you feel overwhelmed, let your host teacher know immediately. Talk to your principal about what resources you have available to you. Form relationships with other teachers; the easiest way to do this is by eating lunch – yes, gasp! – in the teacher’s lounge. Speaking to and asking for advice from someone other than your host teacher can open up an entirely different perspective that you otherwise may not have had access to.

5. Make Time For Yourself

Teaching, particularly student teaching, can be a very overwhelming experience. The to-do list is endless, and if you don’t take time for yourself, you could very quickly face burnout! Go to the gym, grab a drink or dinner with friends, spend a half hour reading just for pleasure, watch an episode of your favorite television show – it’s important to continue to do the things you enjoy. Set limits for yourself – I tend to stay fairly late after school (until about 5:00 PM or so) to do my planning, make photocopies and grade papers and make sure things are in order for the next day, just to limit the amount of work I bring home with me. Teaching should obviously be an important priority in your life – but not the only priority.

So there you have it! These are just a few of the tips I have found to be most helpful. If you have any questions or other things to have, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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