“It takes a village to raise a student teacher!”
That became my motto last semester, as I navigated myself through my first time as a Guide Teacher*.
I had such a phenomenal experience as an apprentice teacher (the year before student teaching) and as a student teacher, I always knew I wanted to give back and be a Guide Teacher someday. And that someday happened last August, when my principal walked into my room and asked if I’d like a student teacher.
It’s not easy to invite a stranger into your classroom, share the space, share the kids, and give them room to make mistakes. For me, it was so worth it!
Getting Mentally Prepared
I’ll admit, I was super nervous to host a student teacher. How do you even teach someone to teach?!
Thankfully, my good friend Doug Robertson was just finishing up his latest book, A Classroom of One! (Stop what you’re doing, and go buy yourself a copy on Amazon. No matter your experience level & role in education, this book is for you! And, I promise he’s not paying me to say this.) This was a life saver, it gave me a starting place, and some tips for building this teaching partnership.
The first thing I did was go out and buy a pretty notebook for Amy. As Doug advised, I wrote her a letter to start the notebook and our journey together. Letter writing is my jam, so it felt natural. And, I have to admit, I think this really impacted Amy. She talked about the letter multiple times, and even showed it to her mom–a retired Kindergarten teacher! It also helped me welcome her into our classroom, and set the foundation for our work together.
Before the first day, I called my Guide Teacher from when I student taught. Once a mentor, always a mentor! He gave me some great advice and questions to ask Amy on her first day.
The Start of Our Journey
On our first day together, Amy observed my 1st period class and I had her take notes. I introduced Ms. Ellevold to my class and explained she would be hanging out, observing, getting to know them, and helping out–and, I made sure Amy walked around and interacted on that first day!
In our first debrief, Amy asked a lot of great questions that made me reflect on my own teaching, the decisions I made, and how I view our class. In turn, I asked her questions about why she wants to be a teacher.
I found my superpower teacher senses also applied to having Amy in my “Classroom of One”. On her 2nd day in my classroom, she met her class (we’re on block schedule). I introduced her, then asked her to do the warm-up. I had given her about 5 minutes notice that she would go over the warm-up with the kids; she looked (and sounded) nervous, but I also knew the sooner she interacted with her class, the quicker the transition from me to her would happen. It was fun to get to write my observations in her notebook. As Doug suggested in Classroom of One, I created 3 columns: likes, suggestions, other.
We agreed that the next time she saw her class, she would do the warm-up and notes with them, then I would do the final activity. As it turned out, she was on a roll with her class, and they were loving her–so I didn’t stop her, I gave her the “keep going!” eyes, and she taught the whole block period!
She took on more and more responsibilities, including grading, attendance, and discipline. I didn’t have a set timeline for when all this would happen, but instead went by her cues for when she was ready. I also started stepping out for a couple minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time and distance away from our classroom.
As the semester went on, we got into this rhythm of one of us teaching, the other observing, and a big debrief after the lesson. Amy attended our PLC meetings, went with me for supervision, attended trainings, and asked a lot of questions!
By the end of the semester, I left her completely alone for the last 2 weeks. While this is not a requirement for her program, I saw it as her next step in growth. I can’t help myself from giving the “teacher look” to a chatty student or being available to answer a question. She needed to teach without me in the room! So, I parked myself in other classrooms or the library to work, and only popped in if I forgot something essential.
It Takes a Village
During our semester together, I encouraged Amy to observe as many teachers as she could. I made her a list, including the whole science department and multiple math, English, history, and AVID teachers.
I also went to observe the other 2 student teachers from her cohort, took detailed notes, and debriefed with them after. This experience helped me realize that each of us have different strengths as a teacher, and also as a guide teacher. I was able to provide a lot of feedback on classroom management and student engagement. (Don’t worry, the other 2 Guide Teachers have excellent management too! I just seem to have a particularly good eye for it, and a knack for teaching it with student teachers. They’re both better at teaching discussion and questioning strategies.)
I also invited the science department, administrators, and other teacher friends to come observe Amy as frequently as possible. They would leave her written or verbal comments at the end. Not only is this healthy for her to have multiple eyes watching her teach, but also it builds comfortability with having people walk in at any point during a lesson.
I Became a Better Teacher!
One of the best part of having a student teacher is having someone constantly observing me teach. There were multiple times the lesson didn’t go as I planned, and I’d turn to Amy mid-lesson and ask for feedback. We’d come up with a plan to change the lesson on the spot or for the next class.
Having a student teacher is a significant time investment. I know some teachers take on a student teacher, then immediately leave the room to get more coffee and chat with a friend. I was constantly observing, and our post-lesson debriefs + planning were often 1-2 hours–thankfully my prep and technology resource period directly followed both the class she observed and the class she taught. Effectively, I lost my prep periods for the first few months. However, this was a time-investment well spent. As I stepped out more and more, I got the opportunity to pop into other classrooms to observe and collaborate!
I will gladly take on another student teacher in the future! Even though I didn’t get one placed with me this semester, there are 2 with other teachers, and I look forward to supporting them however I can.
I’m also planning on recording myself teach more frequently this semester. I won a fancy Swivl at ISTE 2017, which was used a ton last semester to record Amy and another student teacher. I know it takes time investment (and a lot of vulnerability!) to record and watch the video playback, but I know it’s worth it for me.
While writing this post, I can’t stop smiling! Amy, you were a pleasure and a joy to work with! Thank you for an incredible first Guide Teacher experience, and for building so many classroom memories with me. You’ve made me a stronger teacher!
*Note: I use Guide Teacher throughout this post. Some people/programs call them Master Teachers, Cooperating Teachers, etc.