The best advice for a successful student teaching experience comes from the Boy Scouts: be prepared.
Whether you're just starting your teaching degree program or you've already lined up your first student teaching gig, proper preparation will help you be ready to stand up in front of a classroom full of students when the time comes.
Here are four things you can do to make sure that the experience goes smoothly.
1. Plan for a full-time job.
Student teaching (also referred to as demonstration teaching) is a full-time job. Your placement will last 12-16 weeks depending on your specific program requirements. This experience will occur during the normal school calendar.
To meet this requirement, you'll likely need to make arrangements so that you can be teaching full-time. You might have to quit your job or take a leave of absence, arrange for daycare, or find daily transportation.
Suspending or quitting your job can cause financial strain, and it's important to budget for this reality. Start saving before you begin your student teaching placement; after it starts, you might be able to take a part-time job on weekends to make ends meet.
You might also have to delegate household chores and other responsibilities to make time for your student teaching. Discuss this with your family or your housemates and devise a plan that works for everyone.
Carli Rovito, who's earning her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Western Governors University, says she was fortunate because her husband has a career that let her quit her job without imposing much financial burden on her family. That may not always be possible, though, and if you have kids, that can add another layer of consideration as you prepare for student teaching.
"Always have a backup plan, especially if you have children," Rovito says. "Make sure that you have someone reliable to pick up or watch your children as necessary."
2. Research the role.
Ask your instructors, mentor and/or fellow student teachers what the experience is like and what lessons they took from it. Read about what student teaching entails, and learn more about how to prepare.
If you don't have any experience working with children, look into being a camp counselor or a volunteer tutor. These experiences can help prepare you for student teaching.
When you get your placement, learn as much as you can about the school, its culture, and the community it serves to understand how you'll fit in and to help tailor your lesson plans. Don't be afraid to ask your host teacher or administrators questions; they should be receptive to teachers-in-training who want to learn and become team players.
Rovito says her student teaching experience was "extremely rewarding." When she started at WGU, she was working full-time as a parent aide at an elementary school in California. Shortly after that, she moved back to Alabama and worked with autistic children as a behavioral technician. These experiences prepared her for student teaching, she says.
3. Consider your instructional approach.
What kind of teacher do you want to be? How will you engage students in active and collaborative learning? How will you make sure that your students are understanding your lessons? Will you—or can you—personalize instruction for every child?
When you're thrown into the fire for the first time, it can be overwhelming. You might feel as though you don't have the time to develop new lesson plans every evening because everything's still new to you. The more you can think about the teaching strategies you'll use and the resources you'll turn to, the more prepared you'll feel when the time comes to create new lessons. You could even build a library of sample lessons ahead of time so that you have ready-made ideas to draw from in a pinch. The courses you take as part of your degree program will involve building many of these resources and strategies to ensure that you are fully equipped for success.
4. Prepare yourself for classroom challenges.
No matter how ready you are, things don't always go as planned. When you begin your student teaching, you're bound to have days when you struggle. A lesson might go wrong. The internet might go out. Backup plans help, but the biggest thing is to not let classroom setbacks bother you.
Remember that it's OK to fail in front of your students—in fact, it's an opportunity to model how to respond when things go wrong. If something happens and you make a mistake, fix it, then learn from it. Just don't lose your cool. Maintaining a sense of humor will serve you well.
And remember: the rewards make the challenges worthwhile.
"I absolutely loved student teaching," says Adriana Romero, who's pursuing a bachelor's degree in special education from WGU. "The most rewarding part for me was watching my students use the knowledge that I taught them in a variety of ways. My advice to others is to set realistic goals that you can accomplish. All of those goals will eventually lead to the reality you've always dreamed of."