While your student teaching experience may still be months off, perhaps in the fall or in the spring, there are important things you can do now to prepare for a successful experience. First, it’s important to prepare mentally for the experience with rest and reorganizing your family responsibilities. But preparing for your professional experience should also be a top priority.
Further Reading: How to Encourage Intrinsic Motivation in Students
Daily success in the classroom depends on your organization and planning, as well as understanding the professional expectations that will foster your readiness and successful teaching results. Here are a few ways you can walk into your student teaching classroom as a professional, ready to focus on the curriculum, the school culture, and establishing your relations within the school setting.
1. Consider your student teaching experience “a long-term job interview”.
Student teaching is an important step towards your teacher certification, but it’s also the beginning of your teaching career. Dr. Krista Berry, supervisor of teacher success at Western Governors University’s (WGU) Teachers College, said that while you will be a guest in your host school think of this experience as your first teaching job interview. That begins with doing your homework on everything that will be expected of you while you’re there.
Make sure all your university documentation is in order, forms are turned-in, and all deadlines are met for your placement. Next, review the university policies and procedures which are generally housed in a handbook or manual format. Be aware of expectations for attendance and what to do in case of an unplanned emergency or illness.
Before stepping into the classroom, check on all start-up procedures and your responsibilities, such as meeting with or contacting your host or cooperating teacher and university supervisor. It is also helpful to obtain your school’s dress-code policy so that you can align your attire ahead of time.
Once your placement begins, you will be busy and focused on your daily lesson planning. But make yourself available for anything your host teacher asks of you, or other staff needs, for opportunities to learn and grow. Volunteer to stay after school with your host teacher if needed and try to become involved in something extra-curricular or after school.
2. Build your teacher community of support.
Many people will be ready to support you in your student teaching experience. Build relationships with other teachers and education professionals, which will not only help you feel more comfortable in the classroom, but it will help ensure your personal development, professional growth, and benchmark achievements throughout your experience.
Obtain and instructional materials and books ahead of time, and ask your host teacher for an early preview into content expectations and areas to research before entering your new role.
“I really appreciated meeting the teachers, my supervisor, and knowing the school in advance,” said Mrs. Courtney Hinerman, a recent demonstration teaching student and WGU Alumnus in K-12 SPED and Elementary General Education. “Having knowledge of a book beforehand is really helpful!”.
3. Develop your instructional practices.
Start to flag and search online resources and favorite sites to support lesson ideas and the development of your instructional practices. You will often need a quick turnaround in preparation, given you are stepping into a classroom as a teaching guest. There are many online websites, articles, blogs, and teacher groups specific to your interests, teaching style, and field of study. Be reflective, selective, and critical of the sites and videos you are modeling.
Since there are many great applications, utilize resources and be selective of the sites that are best suited to your given assignment and school community. Check out a couple of popular books for new teachers, such as “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong. Also, “The First-Year Teacher’s Checklist” by Julia G. Thompson serves as a quick reference for classroom success.
And don’t forget another important book; a good teacher’s planner.
“Buy a planner and use it,” said Courtney. “It’s really helpful for meetings, general lesson plans, and any other activities you become involved in.”
Finally, find a comfortable bag for your general supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, dry erase markers, and sharpie markers.
4. Explore your new school community.
Look through the district website, and learn the various characteristics of your school community. It’s critical to know the student population you’re working with to develop successful and engaging lesson activities. The more you’re aware of the school and community resources and your student's interests, experiences and values, the more you’ll develop ways to integrate experiences into your lesson planning that will relate to their interests.
You could possibly integrate local events such as state or county fairs, festivals, or other unique experiences into your lessons. Also, locate other professionals within the school community, such as artists, and people working within various industries to come and speak in your classroom.
These preparations will set the stage for better time and classroom management. Connecting your curriculum to real-life events tells your students that you care about their learning and what is important and of interest to them. When students know you care and have an interest in their lives, they’ll place more effort into the lessons, activities, and projects you assign to them.
5. Build rapport with your students.
Remember that teaching is not something done to students, effective teaching and learning is done WITH students. Educator and author Rick Wormelli, best known for his best practices in differentiated instruction, said, “We cannot teach students that we do not know”.
Students feel most connected with their teachers when they perceive that the teacher understands them. Positive teacher-student relations are built on the connections between emotions and thinking.
If you do not have children of your own, Courtney recommends that you volunteer for summer programs or special events where you can be around children. “Volunteering can help you to understand children.”
6. Keep your sense of humor.
As you proceed through your student teaching, don’t lose your sense of humor. Always remain positive and look to the benefits of all teaching and learning experiences.
If a problem occurs or you feel you made a mistake, fix it, learn from it, and do not get too distraught over it. You will not lose the students’ respect unless you lose your cool and your dignity. Reflect upon your actions and the impact they have on your students, and even in the face of adversity, KNOW that you are prepared. You are already successful by reaching this milestone.
“Every day is a new opportunity to do your best,” said Dr. Berry. “Leave the past behind you and create a new success in each subsequent encounter.”
Further Reading: The Mentor-Student Teacher Relationship: Finding Common Ground
Teaching is a rigorous but fulfilling career, and student teaching prepares you to learn and adapt to the demands and responsibilities that come with the job. If you take the time now to fulfill these preparations, you’ll already be on your way to starting your successful new career.
Editor's note: This story is the second in a two-part series. Read also: 3 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Your Student Teaching Requirement