By Bianca Kim, NJEA Preservice ambassador, Graduate Student at Rutgers University
I vividly remember waking up anxious and excited to meet my new kindergarten students at the beginning of September. Having always been a shy kid growing up, I was unsure of my abilities in teaching and being a leader among a group of young students. Four months later, I was filled with mixed emotions, saying “goodbye” to my 18 lovely students.
On that day in December, I walked out of student teaching for the last time knowing that teaching is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Now, I want to offer you advice before you begin the once-in-a-lifetime journey of student teaching.
Student teaching is a learning process. You are there to learn how to become a teacher, not to be perfect from the start. Don’t underestimate your abilities because you will see tremendous growth in yourself. On the first few days, I was so shy that I didn’t even know how to approach my students. I never imagined myself to be comfortable teaching while my cooperating teacher and paraprofessionals sat easily among the students. By the end of my student teaching, however, I had no problem teaching even when the district superintendent walked in. So don’t psych yourself out if it seems scary or awkward at first, because you’ll get used to it and love it in the end.
Build and maintain good relationships with all staff members. In the morning, go into the office and say “good morning” to the secretaries and thank the crossing guards and the custodians for their hard work. With your effort, the school community will become more welcoming and positive in return. Don’t hesitate to speak with other teachers and the principal, and invite them to pop in and watch you teach. Even if the school has no open spot for you after student teaching, the faculty will know that you are a great candidate and will be more than happy to serve as a reference for you.
Every day was spent doing something that I love, and my passion for teaching never stopped growing.
Once you begin to feel comfortable with your students, ask to observe other classrooms in the building. There are so many different teaching styles and classroom management strategies that teachers possess. You don’t want to miss out on a whole new perspective on teaching. While you might be inclined to stay with your own class, this opportunity will only serve you as a strength when it’s time to look for a job. Schools want to see the various experiences that you have in diverse classroom settings; student teaching provides this opportunity. Bring a notebook with you and jot down what you like about each classroom. By the end, you will have a notebook full of ideas that will help you envision your future classroom.
Sometimes it might seem that everyone is so busy in the school that your efforts will never be recognized. However, you still hold an important role that you should always be proud of. For me, I found my recognition mostly through my students, who motivated me to be persistent. With that, always remember to take care of your personal health as well. Perhaps I was so determined to make my lessons perfect that I had too many sleepless nights, eventually making myself vulnerable during flu season. When you are sick, take the day off. As much as you should emphasize the importance of making each day count, always remember that you’re a person before you’re a teacher.
The most important part about student teaching is that you are enjoying every moment that you have because it’ll be over before you know it. Regardless of the good and bad days, you are going to miss this experience that you will never have again. While it was the most stressful part of my life, it was the best experience that I had. I may have given up sleep, but it’s because I enjoyed putting that much more effort into creating enjoyable lessons for my students. Every day was spent doing something that I love, and my passion for teaching never stopped growing. In the end, simply remember to always have fun!