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Student teaching: One of the best but also most stressful experiences you will have. This is your last time to practice teach—and for a lot of people (unfortunately) one of the first times. After this semester, you will be required to teach students all by yourself. How do you prepare? How do you get the most out of student teaching?
You are actively involved!
At no point should you be sitting in the back doing nothing.
1. Get as much facetime with the students as possible
This is the most important piece of advice that I can give you. Do as much as you can. Even if it is your first day, you should not be sitting in the back. Walk around the room, learn the students’ names, help them with their work, etc. in the music classroom, this looks like helping. On my first day student teaching, I was walking around, doing activities with the students, passing out supplies, etc.
Ask your mentor for as much teaching time as possible. Think about it this way—after this semester, you do not get as much help. Next year, it will be you and 25 students in a room. You want to have handled as many situations and learned about as much as possible before that happens.
You do not want your first day in your own classroom to be a new experience. Tell your student teaching mentor that you want as much experience as possible.
Granted, on the first day you are probably not just going to jump in and start teaching solo.
During my student teaching, my mentor and I worked out a deal. The first week, I helped and she taught. The next few weeks, I taught a few of the classes. I taught more each week until we were halfway through student teaching and I was teaching full-time. It also helped that in elementary music, we teach the same lesson for days at a time. So sometimes she would teach it once or twice and then I would take over from there.
What if my mentor doesn’t want me to?
Some teachers may not be as willing to hand over the reins as others. If you are student teaching right before testing, or if you are with a band or choir right before Large Group Performance Evaluation (AKA Festival), they may not want you taking up all of their precious teaching time.
Have a chat with them about it. Tell them you want to do as much as you can. Tell them you want to help them. Even if you keep the same format they already do for your lessons. You could also ask them how much they feel ok with you teaching. In a choir, they may not want to give up rehearsal time. Ok, ask if you can do warm ups. Or ask if you can teach one of the lower choirs or bands that do not have a performance. If you are in a classroom, your teacher may not want you teaching math or reading because there is so much riding on it, but they may agree to science or social studies.
If they really will not relinquish any time, ask for a new mentor. You need to teach during student teaching or you will not learn anything.
2. Ask specific questions
During student teaching, I would keep a piece of paper on my desk and fill it with questions when my mentor was busy. The more specific, the better. Ask about everything. This will help you to know what to do when you have a class of your own.
Not sure what to ask? Some things you should definitely discuss include:
- Behavior management strategies
- Where to get curriculum
- Music people—where to get music and how to order it
- When to introduce things like solfege and rhythm (and how)
- When is All State? Requirements?
- What duties are you usually in charge of as the music teacher?
And anything else. This is particularly important for music people. Next year, you will probably be the only music teacher, or one of two if your school has band and choir.
3. Ask for specific feedback
This is something my mentor automatically did throughout my student teaching. While I was teaching, she would write down very specific things that I did. After the class, we would talk about them.
For example, she would say “I like how you told that student to sit down and then walked away. That said that you expected her to do it and you were not asking again.” Or, “I think it may have worked better if you had called it this instead of this.” Whatever it was, it was extremely specific and she would explain why it was good or bad.
This was so helpful! I still think back to things she told me and use them to improve my teaching now.
Of course, she did not do this every single time I taught throughout student teaching, but about once a week. Enough that it was common and I got a lot of feedback on my teaching.
4. Ask for help
This is important. If you are unsure about anything—discipline, lesson plans, explaining something, etc—ask for help. That is the whole point of student teaching—you have someone there to help you through it. I do believe you should try to do a lot on your own, but if you are unsure, ask. Even if it is the middle of a class. I was known to say, “Mrs. Moore, how would you explain Lieder?” if it was a behavior issue, I would sometimes just give her a look that said I did not know what to do.
I do not suggest this every time—your mentor should not take care of every disciplinary issue throughout your student teaching—but occasionally, yes. Or if you tried to take care of it and are unsure of the next step, ask afterward. Or ask, “Is there something I could have done that would have been better?”
5. Development and networking
Professional development and networking. Two key aspects to teaching, and yet not always talked about in student teaching.
Professional development is taking courses or workshops to learn more about a certain aspect. Your mentor teacher will probably be going to some. What should you do? Ask if you can too! Some cost money, so you may not be able to go to everything, but a lot of them are district-based and therefore free to teachers. Even if you ask, what’s the worst they can say? No? that’s fine. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
You can also ask about other opportunities that are available but not required. My district has many PD through the year. I was able to go to a classroom management workshop during my student teaching for free.
Networking sounds fancy, but it just means meeting people. Meet everyone in your school. meet people outside of your school. be friendly towards your principal. You are in student teaching because you are looking for a job, so meet everyone. A kind word can go a long way with a perspective employer. Even if you are not looking in this area, being able to put other teachers or administrators on your resume as a contact speaks volumes.
6. Observe other teachers
This is something I wish I did, but I did not. I meant to, but student teaching was over before I knew it. Ask if you can observe other teachers. Even if they are outside of your field or your grade level—you can learn from them all. Look for teachers who have quiet classes in the hallways or ask your mentor who they would suggest. It isn’t anything against your mentor, but you can learn a lot from a new perspective!
These are my top tips for student teaching. Did I miss anything? What do you wish you had done while student teaching? Let me know in the comments!