Keep the Student in Student Teacher

Dear Student Teacher,

Congratulations! In a few months, you will begin the part of your college experience that you have likely been waiting for forever – student teaching.

I hope that your student teaching experience gives you all the tools you need to be successful as a first-year teacher and that you will enter each day with an open mind and coachable attitude. I hope that your student teaching journey will guide you along the path toward becoming an effective educator. In Arizona, we could really use a few more. Well, several thousand more.

I want to highlight the phrase “effective educator”. Our students need more than a warm body in the classroom. Our students need a teacher that is warm and understanding of their social, emotional, and academic needs, and who knows how to respond to their needs. The only way to begin your journey toward becoming that teacher, the one our students need, is to go through student teaching with a mentor teacher. It is called STUDENT teaching for a reason, and while you are so excited to become a teacher, you are not there YET.

You are not ready to be released into the wild (read: classroom) on your own YET. The things you learned about behavior management in your college classes are not enough to be able to manage student behavior or run a classroom. The things you learned about lesson planning in your college classes are not enough to effectively plan lessons to meet the needs of your students. Your internships, practicum experience, etc. are not enough. It would be like performing an appendectomy on your first day of a surgical internship; you may know the steps in theory but you do not have the skills to do surgery on your own YET (Okay, maybe I have been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy recently, but I think you get my point).

I would like to paint a picture of the teacher version of George performing an appendectomy on the first day of his surgical internship. Imagine that you are at your school and are so ready to begin with your students. You are taken on a tour, you have the chance to meet your teammates, see your classroom, and maybe even meet your students. You are bursting with excitement and energy, and ready to put all your ideas together in your own classroom. You have a day or so to get your classroom together, and then you are introduced to your students. You keep the class under control for a little while, but then it is time for library. You line your students up, and they are a little noisy, but they will quiet down in the hallway. Right? Well, when your class enters the hallway they run off like the pack of wildebeest stampeding in the Lion King toward the library, leaving you standing outside your classroom wondering what in the world just happened.

This, by the way, is something that really happened. This student teacher was completing student teaching by herself in a classroom, and this happened on her first day in January. I helped her get her class under control after they ran down the hallway, which took me, an experienced teacher, about 15 minutes to get them settled down. I gave her a shoulder to cry on, a pep talk and went back to my classroom.

My students were left with the student teacher I was mentoring because she was able to handle my class, whether they were misbehaving or not. She did not have to do an appendectomy on her first day and learned plenty of strategies on how to handle different behaviors that come up in the classroom and best instructional strategies.
Slight variations of this scenario repeated itself daily and do not even skim the surface of the rest of her responsibilities that began on day one including lesson planning for all subjects, parent conferencing and communication, after-school duties, administering district tests, field day, progress reports and report cards, and more. She was not ready for all of the responsibilities that come with teaching YET.

After several weeks of struggling on the student teacher’s part as well as the students’ in her classroom, her college professors removed her from that classroom to complete her college coursework in a traditional student teaching placement. She left with a rotten student teaching experience, and those students were once again left without a teacher. I do not know if she continued on to become a teacher, but I hope that she was able to be successful in a traditional placement with a mentor teacher.

I urge you to go through student teaching with a mentor teacher. Please do not let this student teacher’s story become your own. You have worked too hard to let your journey toward becoming an effective educator come to an end with a poor “student teaching” experience. Jumping into the classroom ahead of schedule does not just fail your students, who have a teacher who is not ready to be released into the wild, but it fails you, too.

I caution you if you are considering performing an appendectomy on your first day (Ok, that is my last Grey’s Anatomy reference). You owe it to yourself to become the best teacher you can be. You can be the teacher who understands our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and know how to respond to them. Our students need that teacher.

Best of luck to you as you begin student teaching!

Sincerely,

An Attending Surgeon (Ok, that was the real last Grey’s Anatomy reference)

An Effective Arizona Educator

 

Caitlin Gawlowski

I was born to be a teacher, although I did not realize that teaching was my calling until I began college. I have always loved to write and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before I began my freshman year of college, I changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and have never looked back. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during my student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District.
I spent 7 years in the Washington Elementary School District teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and I hold a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2019-2020 school year marks the beginning of my 8th year teaching, where I will be teaching 3rd grade English Language Learners, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification.
If I am lucky enough to have free time, you can find me planning my wedding, spending time with my infant son and fiancé, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

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