If you're studying how to become a teacher, one of the most important requirements you'll have to meet is student teaching. This is your chance to put everything you've learned in your college courses to the test. While it can be nerve-wracking, you'll learn an exceptional amount of information—not just about teaching but also about yourself. You'll also meet some amazing teachers (and some not-so-amazing teachers) along the way. If you want to make sure you have a pleasant student teaching experience, here's my advice.
1. Contact Your Cooperating Teacher Early
The first step to making a good impression is to initiate contact with your cooperating teacher. In most student teaching situations, prospective teachers will get contact information as soon as the professor learns which teachers have signed on as mentors. With both my student teaching placements, I sent a quick introduction e-mail to the teacher and shared how excited I was to be in their classroom. I also asked if there was anything they needed from me or wanted me to have for the first day of class.
I was delighted to get a response back from both my mentor teachers. They gave me a lot of valuable information (what to expect, when to arrive, etc.) before I had to head into the classroom for the first time. My first mentor even asked me to meet her for coffee at the school a few days prior to my first day to help break the ice. That meeting really helped to calm my nerves, and my mentor loved that I reached out to her because it really showed initiative—something not enough student teachers had done in the past.
2. Make the Proper Time Commitments
If you want to know how to become a teacher, then you have to act like one. This means coming to school before the students and leaving after them, not alongside them. Make the most of your student teaching experience by capitalizing on all the time you have available. Get to school early. Have the classroom teacher check your lesson plans or use the time to get feedback on how you're doing. If the teacher has after-school meetings or clubs to run, stay late and ask if you can join in. I always arrived 30 minutes early and stayed until the teacher left for the day.
Further Reading: The Mentor-Student Teacher Relationship
3. Be Prepared for Anything
One morning, during my second student teacher experience, my mentor teacher told our first graders that I was going to sing the three morning songs with them—without my knowledge. When I arrived, ready to quietly sing along with the teacher, she told me that I was on my own. Not a strong singer in the slightest, I was totally unprepared to lead the students. Even though I was thrown off guard and felt targeted by the classroom teacher, I stepped up to the plate and sang to the best of my ability. Looking back, I don't think my mentor teacher did it to intentionally embarrass me. She wanted to show me that I always need to be prepared!
4. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
One of my biggest regrets was not asking my cooperating teachers for more help. I really wanted to know how to build better relationships with the students. Being new, I was so focused on getting the job done and doing it right that I neglected to form a solid bond with my class. If I could do it all over again, I'd take the time to write out a list of questions and ask my mentor teacher for feedback.
Further reading: Looking for Your First Teaching Job
As a new teacher, it's inevitable that you're going to have questions—so ask them. You're there to learn from the classroom teacher and everyone else at the school, so don't worry about looking or sounding silly. Every teacher was in your position at one point, so they'll know where you are coming from.
5. Treat This Like an Interview
Finally, always dress and act professionally. Think of your student teaching experience as a very long interview. Would you dress down or speak unprofessionally in an interview? While you may see teachers dressing down or speaking casually with their colleagues, you want to present yourself as a professional at all times. One of my student-teaching peers would come to school dressed like she was ready to go jogging: sneakers, a t-shirt, and her hair in a ponytail. I soon overheard teachers talking about how they didn't think she was committed to the job because of how she dressed. So, I made sure to point her in the right direction of appropriate school attire. The lesson we both learned is that if you want your colleagues and employers to respect you, you need to dress the part.
Your time working as a student teacher is an opportunity of a lifetime. Savor every moment and use this time to learn and grow—and most importantly, have fun!