Tips for Student Teachers

A few days ago, I was asked for advice from a future student teacher.  I thought this would be a great topic for a post.  Maybe you could share some hints, too.

Through the years I have had several student teachers.  Of those student teachers, I was fortunate to have a few that were clearly outstanding.  From the first day that they walked into the classroom, they were "naturals".  When I reflect back over their experiences, I tried to figure out what made them outstanding.  They each had different personalities but shared similar characteristics and actions.

The importance of this experience:

The outstanding student teachers (O.S.T.) understood that their student teaching experience was their top priority.  It came before part time jobs, plans with friends, and all the other obligations a college student has on their "to do" list.  Although they were receiving college credit/hours for the experience, this wasn't a class that you showed up for at 7:30 and left at 3:15.    This was their opportunity to not only put into use the knowledge they had learned so far in their course work, but also gain first hand experience in the trenches.  This would be their one and only time to have guidance when they are working side-by-side with a mentor.

Constructive Criticism:

The O.S.T. asked for constructive criticism.  Rather than let constructive criticism hurt their feelings, they saw it as a tool to help them grow professionally. They had this drive to always improve themselves.  Even when a lesson went smoothly, they dissected their lesson to see which part could be better.  Should they ask different types of questions?  Should they allow more wait time?

Build Relationships:

A teacher is one cog in a system called school.  Although you are alone when you close your classroom and begin to teach your class, you are still part of a system.  All it takes is one cog to get out of alignment for you to realize the importance of each person in a school.  Get to know everyone in your school and build relationships with them.  A friendly "Hello, how was your weekend?" is a great ice breaker.  Custodians, cafeteria workers, secretary, teacher assistants, special ed. teachers, specials teachers all play a role in keeping a school running smoothly.  I have seen the relationship my O.S.T. built with staff members besides myself pay off.  Many times when there is an opening at a school, staff members know about it before it is officially posted on the district's website.  A librarian, spec. ed. teacher, or classroom teacher might see a friend from another school at a workshop and ask if he/she knows of a good candidate for the position.  My O.S.T. who built relationships with staff members besides myself were often recommended.  One of the things I heard most often said by other staff members about my O.S.T. were "they came early, stayed late and always looked professional". This is a visible way to show your dedication to your job.

Professional Dress and Mannerisms

One of the colleges that we received student teachers from had this wonderful, wonderful, wonderful professor who was the liaison between the college and elementary schools.  I loved getting her student teachers because she gave her student teachers practical, down-to-earth advice.  She constantly stressed with her S.T. that their job was to learn to be a teacher and to get a job.  Here are a few of the conversation she had with her S.T. :

Student Teacher:  Can we wear jeans?
Professor:  No, you need to wear professional clothes every day.
Student Teacher:  But, my cooperating teacher wears them on Fridays.
Professor:  Your cooperating teacher has a job, you don't, so you won't wear jeans.

Student Teacher:  What time do I arrive and leave school?
Professor:  Ask your cooperating teacher what time he/she arrives and leaves.  Then you make sure you arrive before him/her and leave after him/her.
Student Teacher:  But, a teacher's contract time is ______.  Yes, teachers who are under contract can do that, but they have a job contract, you don't.  You need to arrive early and stay late because there should be plenty for you to do.

Student Teacher:  What do I do if I don't agree with my cooperating teacher's discipline plan?  I think he/she should use more positive reinforcement.
Professor:  The principal would not have selected this teacher to be a cooperating teacher if he/she didn't have confidence in the teacher.  You currently have classroom management knowledge on a philosophical level from your classes.  This teacher has that and practical knowledge as well.  Watch and observe so you will have both, too.

 She stressed the importance of dressing professionally.  No, you don't have to wear a dress suit to work.  She meant you should:

*Look at the district's dress code for students.  This is good guideline for student teachers except for wearing shorts or jeans.

*Wear dress, pants or a skirt (not jeans).  Look closely at the length of your skirt.  Sit on a chair and have a friend of yours sit on the floor in front of you when you are wearing your skirts.  This is the eye level of your students.  Ask your friend if your skirts are appropriate for school.  Gentlemen, your pants should sit at your waist.  Your student should not be able to tell whether you prepare boxers or briefs.  Either buy pants that fit or buy a belt and use it.

*Shirts:  Do the bend over test in front of a mirror.  This is what your students see when you bend over their desk to help them.  Ask a friend to look at you from behind when you bend over.  Does your shirt come up and show skin or underwear?  This is what your students will see when you bend over a desk.  Shirts should be modest in design and material.  Save the see-through material or spaghetti straps for your personal time.

*Hair and makeup:  Hair should be clean.  Your makeup and hairstyle should not detract from the learning environment.  Save Easter egg hair colors and mohawks for your personal time, not school hours.

Do you have any advice to give future student teachers?


4321Teach said...

I totally agree about how to dress. The low cut tops are another thing, that's not professional dress. I will say that I understand Student Teachers don't have a job. But I was in a great school community when I student taught, and I dressed up for an inservice day, and the principal told me I didn't need to do that. I took that as the go ahead to wear jeans.
My best advice is to interact and observe as many classrooms as possible. Any good sponsoring teacher should support this. If they don't, see if you can observe during your lunch or specials time.
Also, feel free to stop by our first linky party!

Anonymous said...

An excellent post! I had my first ST last year and he was far from outstanding. Besides stressing the professionalism aspect I am glad that you touched on the priority of STing. It was obvious that STing wasn't my ST's priority and that caused him many struggles. Also having the general awareness that so much more goes into teaching than being in front of the classroom. I thought he would have known this before reaching me. You need to have the basic skills of time management as well as being able to multitask on your own too. I hope to get another ST again that is a better experience for me.

Yvonne Crawford said...

Great post! I think all of those are so important for STs to be aware of. I really found it was great to not only learn from the teacher I was mentoring, but I found other teachers who I meshed well with who I learned some great things. Building all of these great relationships helped me to have a number of references that I used when I went job hunting, as well as lifelong teaching friends.

Arlene sandberg said...

I can remember being a student teacher way back in 1970. It was so different then. Your post is wonderful and it's hard to imagine with the job market the way it is that STs would want to make the best impression possible by dressing professionally and making it their priority. I would also make the most of the opportunity to observe other grade levels and classes as their future job may not be the same grade they are STing in. Connecting with the staff and students is critical. Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. We all have our own style and STs need to be themselves and not what they think they should be.
LMN Tree

Unknown said...

Great points! I would suggest having student teachers spend time in special education, EL, and Title I rooms as well. Seeing how those programs run will help them see the importance of the programs and the importance of being flexible about students leaving class to attend other groups. Also, I remember feeling annoyed that I kept getting stuck cutting everything out and copying things when I student taught, but those are a big part of being a teacher, so let them know they need to get used to it! :-)

Walt Ballenberger said...

I was once told by a mentor that one should try to be rated in the top 20% at any job they are in. If they have to cut back, it won’t be you that must go. I was reminded of this about the coming early and staying late comments. This alone will get you rated in the top 50%. All your comments are good. Making friends with others is especially important, and the dress tips are excellent. Some of your readers interested in becoming teachers might like to know of how they can earn a teaching license without having to go back to college and get another degree. Keep up the thoughtful posts.

Jenn Ayers said...

Stick to your procedures and drill, drill, drill! If you have a particular way you want them to sit, reinforce it! If you have a certain way for them to line up, don't deviate. Stick to your guns!

Unknown said...

Don't be afraid to take risks! It is a huge learning experience- good and bad. The kids don't know if you skipped a part of your lesson part or messed something up. So, go have some fun! :)

Always A Lesson

Ms. Chrissy B said...

Great post! I would also say to follow through. If you say you're going to look up a poem, or book, or strategy, or your cooperating teacher asks you to do it, do it! Don't 'forget'. Have a notebook, be organized, and remember what you say you're going to do. That's a big part of teaching.

Buzzing with Ms. B

Lori said...

Great post! I especially liked the advice to dress professionally. Student teachers need to soak up all that they can while they are partnered with a mentor teacher before being on their own.
Conversations in Literacy

HoJo said...

Michelle, these comments are so great! The other thing I could say differently is that I was told *to* wear jeans by my cooperating teacher! She said I should fit in with the rest of the staff, and she would have been mad if I had dressed up on Fridays. I suppose it all depends on people's personalities and what the school's culture is like.

One thing I want to emphasize even more is to ask questions, then ask some more, and finally - just when you think you've asked your limit - ask just a few more! You have no idea what you might encounter when you get out into the actual workforce, so ask while you are still "practicing".

And - see if your cooperating teacher will let you sit in on some other classes. Even though I did my student teaching in 4th grade, my cooperating teacher arranged it so I could sit in on some 1st and 6th grade classes. I told her those were two grades where I had very few field experiences, so she made sure I had at least a little exposure to them. It was great!

Thank you for writing this post! I'm going to pin it to my new teachers board!! :)

Theresa said...

I currently have my first Student Teacher and she is a natural! I hope to give her MORE opportunities than the university requires.
I also encourage ST to jump in with their teacher's extracurricular activity schedules. How many of us had NO idea how much time a club or sport would take up before we "agreed" to do it?? =)

Unknown said...

Although you are not getting "paid" for your work, you should take the student teaching experience as seriously as you would a paying job. Let your cooperating teacher see that teaching is a passion for you and not a "job."

Unknown said...

I have a student teacher right now and this doesn't apply to her at all.... she is beyond this. She's getting her masters in education after raising her own children. She's been fitting in well.

I would add to this that the reflective dialog on lessons needs to start right away. We have had open discussions about my lessons that have things that I would do differently - big and small. This, I believe, has helped her to have those open conversations with me about her lessons and things that she has changed.

I also have plans for her to visit other grade levels, but I also have 3 other teammates who have different styles. I think it is great for her to see the same grade level and standards interpreted in the four different ways that we do.

A Kitchen Witch said...

My professor's advice: Don't engage in work room/lunch conversations that could, in anyway link you to gossip. I try to keep my talk about lesson ideas, asking questions about how different things in the school work, "students have to have a temperature of ___ before they're sent home?" and other such questions. These are things I need to know anyway, and talking about these things keeps me out of conversations about students, other teachers, and administrators.

Jenny Graham said...

Thanks for the advice! I'm in my second semester of student teaching, and I have my last (and full-time!) semester in the spring!!

Unknown said...

I just came across this post as I'm getting ready for student teaching. Thank you SO MUCH! I did notice that some of my fellow ST were wearing jeans when they met their teachers for the first time. I was absolutely shocked that anyone thought that was okay.
I like your suggestion about doing the bending over test. That works well for cleavage too! Going to have to remember that when I buy new shirts.

Unknown said...

Remember to get involved in the school community. Join committees, volunteer for after school programs, be present at staff meetings! It makes a huge difference ( think of the recommendations/references!) and staff appreciates extra hands and new ideas!

Julie said...

One of the things a cooperating professor told all of the student teachers last semester was when children are misbehaving - think about a Q-tip. Quit taking it personally. I had a student teacher that was great last semester, but we had a child with severe emotional issues that would have outbursts and tantrums and he was also a runner. My st felt like she was the cause of these. Once they had their behavior seminar and learned QTIP, she became more confident in dealing with him. It also gave me a reminder that misbehaving students usually have bigger issues and they are not really doing it just to make me angry!

Kris Bower said...

I always tell my student teachers that as a teacher you can never stop learning. If you do, then you falter or stagnate.

I open a google doc with their first lesson they teach. No matter how big or small. I Identify 4+ things that they did well and ask 1 or 2 guiding questions that they can reflect on for their next lesson. I talk with them about how "asking how I can do it better" is part of the profession. So my questions reflect that style of questioning. I leave a place at the bottom for their comments. This is a living document that allows each of us to see growth from the beginning and have a written conversation that we can go back and reflect on.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am starting my final student teaching block on Monday in the High School. All of the advice given here applies and will help me.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am starting my final student teaching block on Monday in the High School. All of the advice given here applies and will help me.

TylerWonders said...

I start my student teaching on Jan. 20th and I am hoping it goes well. My ST experience is in a senior level English classroom and I will be working directly with a Special Education teacher and an ELL teacher. At times, there is going to be five teachers in the classroom. It is very overwhelming and I hope everything goes according to plan. I would love any advice you could give me beyond what is here. Thanks!

Kimmi said...

I taught in South Africa for a few years before coming back to the States to au pair (apparently I like working with children!) and this is great info for student teachers. I was always complimented when I was a student teacher on my dedication, professionalism and general manner. The biggest point in this post was about making contacts. I made it my goal when I started my first job to try and know a little bit about everyone. Within six months I could walk in to the school and be able to chat to everyone about their personal lives, not just school. That held me in good stead as I have made numerous teaching connections through those staff members and, as we all know, the teaching world is a small one. Put your foot in the door and make a good impression and you're set!

Unknown said...

Great article! Another tip, make copies and keep everything! You have great resources in your cooperating teachers and you may not have that later when you get a job elsewhere. As a second year teacher I'm regretting not keeping more copies of things from when I was student teaching. You'll be busy enough as a new teacher without needing to reinvent the wheel all the time.

Néstor Ovando said...

This article is very good! I've been (well, my school, actually) receiving student teachers on their 3rd, 4th and 5th year of university, and, although the questions posed here are not the ones they've asked, it's also good advice. I'm going to pass it on to them, so they can give it some thought :)
Oh, and some suggestions I've given the ST I've worked with are:
- Ask everything, from dress code to words you're allowed to use with the students (as I teach English as a Foreign Language, students who are just discovering the language tend to think that some inappropriate words are fun to use in the classroom)
- Make notes of activities you like or you think might be useful in the future
- Criticism is good, as long as it's intended to build your teaching skills. Advice on how to project your voice, routines to make your students listen to you, or time management in the classroom are always useful.
- Keep copies of everything that your teacher uses in the classroom. If possible (considering the type of activity and/or age of the students), participate in classroom activities so you get a nice insight/flashback-to-the-good-ol'-days and see how everything looks from a different perspective.

Thanks a lot for this, I'll keep an eye on your blog :)

anotherkrisi said...

I had an issue with a ST constantly using her cell phone. She claimed to be having an issue with getting credit for a class, and her Univ. was a 3 hour drive so she couldn't pop in after school. Extremely unprofessional. I would stress that cell phones should be turned off (or on silenced) and put away until lunch or plan time. Also, unless it is an emergency, it should remain put away then as well. Plan time is a time to get work done and work with the mentor. Lunch is a time to build relationships with others. Speaking of lunch... Don't work through it. Go to lunch with the other teachers. Build relationships and learn from them. If you need to use some of your lunch time to work, leave 10 mins early. Don't skip that valuable time with colleagues. Finally, consider ST an interview. It truly is. A long interview, granted, but an interview all the same. Even if there are no FT teaching positions open, how you present yourself can put you on the short list for a para, clerk, or sub (think long term sub) position. These often lead into perm positions the next year.

Hailey Faiola said...

Thank you for the great post and all the wonderful tips in the comments. I am starting student teaching this coming fall, and this has helped me so much.

Mrs. Yazzie's Classroom News said...

Wonderful post! I like the part of "your cooperating teacher has a contract, you don't" perspective. I've had several ST with a varying degrees of professionalism. I don't have one currently, but my colleague does, and when my colleague tried to talk to her about her classroom management, the ST shrugged it off. The ST said she had shown a video of her teaching to other ST and they all agreed she (the ST) had things under control. Really? You're going to take the approval of other novice college student ST over that of an experienced teacher? Having personally witnessed her management (or lack thereof) that's one ST I would not write a recommendation letter for. Respect for the school culture you've been assigned to is of supreme importance.

Bekkah said...

This is a great post! I am going to be starting my first year of teaching this fall' but I have a few friends who will be student teaching soon and this is great advice.

I had a professor from my university supervise my ST experience in addition to my mentor teacher whose class I taught in during the week. She was a former principal and had excellent advice to offer, much of which was in line with things you mentioned. In addition:
- keep a journal of lessons and ideas other teachers in the same grade level as you plan to use. This will allow you to see different ways to teach the same content standards.
- attend anything considered mandatory for your mentor teacher, including committee meetings, staff meetings, EIP/ESOL/SST meetings... as many "extra" things as you possibly can in order to get a more accurate view of what teachers do outside the classroom.
- be the first to volunteer. If someone comes over the speaker system asking for assistance assembling packets/ filling a morning or afternoon duty vacancy/ assisting the PTA/etc. then you need to be first in line to help if at all possible. It shows the administration that you care about the school as a whole and gives you an opportunity to see many different aspects of the school in general.
- attend pre-planning week if you can. My school required us to be at the school for pre-planning and the first week of school, but many programs do not. These planning days are crucial to understanding how teachers prepare and organize themselves for the year as well as how they begin to establish routines and Proceedures.
- Set your social media accounts to the most private settings and clean them up from all potentially problematic content now. If you think parents won't google you and attempt to friend you on Facebook then you are wrong. Don't let social media end your career before it even begins. Principals google STs before they start their coursework too.