*This post was originally written at my previous domain, This Savvy Life. I launched my Up in the Loft rebrand on 6/26/2015.
This year, I have been fortunate enough to take on some student observers in my classroom. I absolutely love having them! I really lucked out so far with the students I’ve had, but I really believe that with the right support, almost any student teacher or observer can be successful. Notice I did say almost….there are those rare lost ducklings who just need to waddle their way back to …. some other career path.
So in honor of the successful semester I had with my first two observers, I am going to share some of my thoughts on supporting the future teachers of America (or you know…where ever…).
1. Send a thorough and personal welcome email. This is the first interaction you will have with someone you will not only be working with, but mentoring for the next several weeks. That’s a big deal! And, the student has probably been anxiously awaiting the chance to get to know you. I include details about parking, dress code, schedule, entering and leaving the building, and even a little personal information. I went to the same college and studied the same thing as the students I work with, so it’s very easy for me to connect with them. I am also friends with some of their TAs….makes me feel old. At 24. Hm. Anyhoo, be professional, but personal. And welcoming. Can I mention welcoming one more time? Be welcoming.
2. Provide your phone number. This might sound extreme to some, especially if you have like 4 observers who come in and out of your room, but that’s exactly why they need a direct way to contact you! By giving them access to lines of communication that extend outside of “business hours,” they feel important. And they know you care. And it encourages them to return the favor and let you know if something comes up. Lots of student teachers can seem/be flaky because it’s not easy for them to contact you. Guys, college kids have a lot going on. Make it easy.
3. Smile. You’d think this is a no-brainer. But many teachers are too jaded and grumpy to crack a smile. Sorry, but it’s the truth. That’s not saying you can’t let them see you get down about something. This being my first year with observers, first year in a new building, and THE most trying and difficult year I’ve had in awhile, I’m not always Little Miss Sunshine, and trust me I apologized profusely to my observers when they had to witness the miserable moments. Still, there’s always something to laugh about, even if it’s how badly a lesson went or the fact that you maybe sort of drank too much margarita at your favorite Mexican restaurant last night. Trust me, they will appreciate your honesty.
4. Speaking of honesty, be honest. Especially when giving feedback, honesty is 100% necessary. It’s ok if a lesson fell flat really hard. Don’t you remember your student teaching? Chances are most of your lessons were bad. It’s just how it goes for most of us. Being honest with your student teachers will build trust, even if what you’re saying stings. And the door swings both ways–invite honest feedback from them as well.
5. Use the “sandwich compliment.” Yes, be honest, but also be tactful. When talking with them about their performance, start with something you liked, then give them the bad news, then finish on a positive note. There’s a psychology to it, I promise. You may be thinking, “but what if there’s nothing bad?” Well, I’m sorry but you’re wrong. There is ALWAYS something that they can work towards for next time. Student teachers are students. They want some direction for improvement. Trust me.
6. Remember that their classroom management is very dependent on YOUR management. If you don’t manage your class well, then your student teachers can’t either. The tricky part is, you can’t blame them for that. But you can be sure that their evaluating supervisor can. You have to weigh the environment and your student teachers’ abilities. If they are struggling, really think about what is causing it. Is it that the learning curve for them is just a little rougher than others? Or could it also be that they are thrown into a bad situation. If it is the latter, swallow your pride and recognize it. It might be the building, an unfortunate grouping of the wrong kids together in a certain class, or it might be you. I’ve had to admit this before. It’s fine, just accept it and figure out how to help. After all, having student teachers is a learning experience for EVERYONE.
7. Make sure the students and other building personnel learn their names. This can be tricky for me because my student teachers only come once a week. I can tell you, though, that the placements I had as a student teacher were most memorable when the kids knew my name. I felt the sincerity when they were excited to see me and sad to see me go and they could even call me by name! What?! Heck, maybe you even have the kids sign a card or something for their last day. It would be nice if the kids know who they’re bidding farewell!
8. Remind them that not every day is a dog and pony show. These poor, poor pre-service teachers have been lead to believe that we all create and deliver amazing, multi-modal, perfectly timed, uber-focused, and lavish lessons every day. Yeah right. We do like one of those a week. MAYBE. There are many days that seem like grunt work or that seem monotonous or boring. Well, learning is not always synonymous with entertainment. We are not dancing jesters for our students. And student teachers don’t necessarily know that. They are made to create fake units and lessons that are as elaborate as…oh I don’t know…something very very very elaborate. And sadly, they’ll probably never use them in real life.
9. Wish them luck and offer to be a reference or write a letter of recommendation. When it’s all said and done, unless they were the spawn of Satan, be professional and offer. If your student teachers are anything like I was, they feel awkward asking for a recommendation. To them, it’s like asking, “Do you think I’m a great teacher?” which is a scary question because it forces them to come face to face with their worst fear: failure. So some will not want to ask because they’re afraid your answer will be a very loaded “No.” Well, student teaching is hard. And you should give them a chance at success and a paycheck. You don’t have to rave if you don’t want to, but give them a tool to go out and try to be a rave-worthy teacher. I know I was nothing to write home about as a student teacher, but thankfully someone gave me a chance to gain some experience. Recommendation letters are an important element for your little proteges when they’re finding the district that will take a chance on them.
10. Keep in touch. If and when you get a reference call from a district who might want to hire your student teachers…in the name of all that is right and good…TELL THEM! CALL THEM! EMAIL THEM! TEXT THEM! DO SOMETHING! Looking for a job is stressful. When principals or superintendents call references, there’s a HUGE chance they want to hire the person they’re calling about. Even if it’s been a few years, TELL THEM. My cooperating teacher told me when my first district called her, and I was so grateful. We hugged! And if that never happens (or even still if it does…) set a Google Calendar or iCal reminder to send a quick “checking in” email a few months into their first years teaching. Maybe you could go hog wild and friend them on Facebook. It’ll remind them that you care and that you are a resource for them. They will appreciate it more than you know. And if they don’t, well then….you’re still awesome.
And so there you have it. Just always keep in mind that you are a very influential person in the lives of your student teachers. Chances are, you’ll find some lasting relationships with these “kids.” They just might be teaching you a thing or two in a few years ;)
Until Next Time!