Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success during your Student Teaching Semester. These tips were created by the MIC Math Class of 2008 on their class wiki project. Look for additional tips for surviving your student teaching semester here!
Tip #1 – Get Organized!!
This may be the most obvious tip, but what you may not realize is you have to actually have a plan for being organized. It is very easy to say you are going to be organized which is what I did for the first few weeks of teaching. I found out all too soon that I was nowhere near organized. I suggest you sit down and decide what you need to organize. How many subjects are you going to teach? You will need at least one binder for each subject. I have found it is easiest for me to organize my binder as follows: lesson plan, warm-up, warm-up key, note sheet (if you use them), note sheet key, homework, homework key. Everything should have the key attached, it makes it so much easier when a student turns something in and you can go right to that lesson, find the homework, and have the answers in front of you. Also, by including a “master” copy of everything, you can always make copies quickly and you will also have everything ready for when you go out into the real world and get your first teaching job. I have talked with many first year teachers who do not know where their materials from student teaching are. I cannot imagine doing all of this work and NOT using it next year, that’s insane!
So now you have your binders for each subject, they will fill up very quickly. I have found it is easier to buy one of those huge binders; I think they are 5 or 6 inches. After you finish a unit, transfer it from the regular binder to the big binder. This way, you only carry around the current unit’s material. The last thing I will suggest you purchase is one of those expanding folders. They usually have around 13 pockets and some kind of string or elastic which wraps around the folder. The great thing is the little amount of space it takes up, yet it holds so much. Inside of the folder, I have pockets dedicated to each class and when I collect homework, I put it into the respective class’s pocket. I also have one folder for make-up quizzes and tests. When I give a test/quiz, I write the name of the absent students on a blank copy and put it into the make-up folder. This way, when Joe comes in to make up a quiz from two weeks ago, I know exactly where to find it. I find new things everyday to designate a pocket to. My organization still needs a little work, but it has helped me so much just making the changes I’ve suggested here. So sit down, figure out what you need, and make a plan of action. Good luck!
Tip #2 – Don’t Assume Anything!
This tip is especially important when you first start teaching. At this point in the semester, you are probably not very familiar with your students, their abilities, and their mathematical knowledge. You most likely will not know what students have and have not learned in previous classes. At this stage of the game, it is best to reteach everything (within reason). Don’t assume that something is review for your students. They may have never seen the material before and may actually begin to feel poorly about themselves because they do not know what you think they should know. If your students start thinking negatively, you are going to have an uphill battle for the rest of the semester. So start at the basics and take it slow for a while. As my cooperating teacher once told me, “sometimes you have to teach to fish”.
A lot of things have changed since we were in high school. Topics are being taught with new techniques, and the sequencing of these topics in your school may not be the same as it was in your high school years ago. Talk to your cooperating teacher. Find out everything you can about the various courses offered at your school, the sequence in which most students take these courses, and the topics taught in each course. If you are not sure if and when a topic may have been taught, ask your cooperating teacher and consider quickly reteaching the concepts.
Tip #3 – Be Consistent with Your Students
This tip is EXTREMELY important because it aids you in establishing classroom management. Before you start your student teaching, make sure you know the school rules and classroom expectations of your cooperating teacher and how you should enforce them. When you first start, students will see you like they see a sub–someone they can take advantage of and walk all over. They will not respect you. Therefore, you will need to start enforcing rules immediately. This will let them know you are more than just aÂ student teacher; you are their teacher and they must respect you.
Along with enforcing the rules comes consistency. If you are going to enforce the rules, you must do itÂ all the time and every day. If you are inconsistent, your students will not respect you and you will be miserable. Your students will test your limits and see what they can get away with. If you stand firm on the rules and are consistent, your students will be more apt to respect you.
Tip #4 – Develop a Relationship with your Students
One of the desires of all the students, no matter what their skill level is academically, is to know that you care about them. Developing a relationship with your students enables you to let your students know you care. This can be as easy as learning their names within the first two days you meet them, starting a conversation with your students to find out what they are interested in, or letting them know you missed them when they were gone. Saying hello to each student as they enter the room lets the student know you have acknowledged they are present. It is EXTREMELY important you make an effort to do this with ALL of your students. Singling out a few students to get to know will set the tone that you have favorites, which isn’t ethical and really turns some students off. Developing a relationship with your students will create a positive learning environment and help you to be welcomed into a climate, which has already been established by your cooperating teacher.
As a part of my student teaching placement I have been assigned three Practical Statistics classes. This class is a supplemental course to Algebra I Part I, which consists of freshmen who have low math skills. The first couple of times I observed these classes I was terrified. Many of these students are “rough around the edges” and are experiencing many unfortunate things outside of school that many of us can not relate to or even imagine. Since I cannot relate to many of these students personally, I made an attempt to learn about what the students are interested in. After learning this information, I will attempt to start conversations with the students as they enter the classroom or before the bell rings. Something I have also found beneficial is letting these students know you missed them when they were gone. I have also divulged a little bit of information about myself, which the students frequently ask me about. Sometimes, even just listening to them can make a world of difference. Although some days these students are hard to handle, I feel as if the relationship I have developed with them has resulted in the students being more responsive when I am in front of the class or helping them individually.
Tip #5 – Ask for Help
Although we have been adequately trained in content knowledge and educational pedagogy, nothing compares to when you are actually in the classroom. Many of the classroom management strategies you learned in class are wonderful and are proven to work, but it is difficult to remember exactly what Canter said when you are in the actual situation. Also, no matter how well you know your content, there will always be one student who asks a question out of nowhere you were not expecting. This is where it is beneficial to speak to someone with experience. Your cooperating teaching has more than likely experienced the same things you are going through and will have advice on how to handle these types of situations. This is one of the only times you will be able to receive immediate direction and guidance after each lesson you teach. Take advantage of it!
Another thing I have realized is no matter how much time and effort I have put into a lesson plan (integrating technology, cooperative learning, and hands-on activities) it always happens that these lessons do not go as well as planned. Part of the reason is because I do not have enough experience in the classroom to know how well students understand or respond to certain material. However, your cooperating teacher has. Your cooperating teacher will know exactly how to present the material so the students will understand it. They will also know how to give directions and manage the students during cooperating learning activities. Don’t feel defeated when you have to ask for help. A truly intellectual person is one who admits they don’t know everything and are an active learner.
Tip #6 – Plan Ahead
With everything you have going on during student teaching it is difficult to stay organized, keep up with the fast tempo, and let alone plan ahead. However, your lessons will go much more smoothly if you do so. Sit down the day before you teach (or a couple of days before) and get all of your materials together. Make all of the copies you need and place them where they can be easily found the next day. If you plan to use technology make sure what you are planning to use is working. If you are planning to use the internet, double check to make sure you or your students can access the website you are wanting to use. Also check and make sure the computer you or your students are using are updated with the software needed for the activity you have planned. Set up the technology you plan to use ahead of time. Check out computer labs way in advance. The day you plan to teach get to school a little bit early. Get the warm-up ready for when students walk in the door. The less dead time you have in your class the better and planning ahead will definitely reduce the amount of off-task time in your classroom.
Within the first few days of student teaching I decided to take the students to the computer lab to complete a discovery learning activity. I decided this on Monday and was going to take the students to the lab on Friday. Of course, because of the late notice, I could only book a computer lab for one of my classes instead of all three. Frantically my cooperating teacher sent out an email asking if anyone had a change of plans and would not need their computer lab after all. Luckily, I was able to reserve two more computer labs for my other two classes. I knew these computer labs had internet access so I neglected to check if the computer was actually compatible with the software needed for the website I wanted the students to access. The students were very excited about going to the computer lab during first hour and once in the computer lab they followed the directions perfectly. However, none of the students could access the website because their computers did not have the JAVA software. The computer technician for the school came in and attempted to load each computer with JAVA, but this took an unreasonable amount of time. I also did not have a back-up plan. Needless to say, the class period was wasted. The moral of the story is, if I would have planned ahead, had a back-up plan if the computers did not work, or checked the computers ahead of time, I would not have wasted an entire class period. I would have also reduced the amount of stress I experienced tremendously!
Tip #7-Get Your Students Involved!
Most students could list at least 10 to 20 places they would rather be than school. Thus, teachers need to find ways to make learning fun for the students. One way to do this is to get students involved with the lesson.
Students can become involved in a lesson in many ways. One of my favorite ways to encourage student participation is to invite students up to the board to work problems. This is beneficial for many reasons. It gives me the chance to see my studentsâ€™ approaches to solving problems. It also gives the class a problem-solving perspective that is different from my own. In my classroom, I invite students to work both homework problems and problems from the dayâ€™s material on the board. Many of my students really enjoy this. In fact, in one of my classes, several students volunteer to do problems before class even starts!
Review games are another way for students to become involved in class. A favorite of my students is a basketball game I created. Students are split into two teams and they answer questions based upon material we have covered in class. When a team has answered 2 or 3 questions correctly in a row, a student from that team has the opportunity to throw a foam ball into the trash can. All students are required to work each problem on a sheet of paper that is turned in at the end of class. The basketball game is a fun activity for the students, and it gets them involved in the classroom.
Tip #8-Take Time for Yourself!
Student teaching can be a very stressful time in your life. In the past, you might have been in a classroom observing another teacher. However, when you student teach, you are the one creating lessons, activities, etc. On top of that, you are juggling your own class work, and you are searching for a job. All of these responsibilities can be very overwhelming, so it is important for you to occasionally take a break from all of the stress!
There are many ways you can rejuvenate yourself. You could exercise, take a warm bath, or go out to eat with your friends. If you only have time to take a short break, you could watch TV or read a chapter in a book. One of my favorite ways to relax is to put music on and play a computer game. If you need a quick break during school hours, you could do some deep breathing exercises or have a chat with a colleague.
It might be hard at first because you know you have so much work to do. However, taking time for yourself is definitely worth it! You will feel more relaxed, which will give you the energy you need to finish all of your work.
Most important – GET REST! Do not spend all night working on lesson plans only to be so tired the next day that you cannot focus. It is not good for you or your classes.
Tip #9 – Don’t Fear The Observations
Partly through the first week of your teaching, you’ll start to look ahead to your 1st observation. You’ll be terrified, but don’t be! The observation really is not as bad as you think. If you are always prepared for you lessons, it will just be like another day. You will have some nerves hit you when you see your supervisor walk through the door, but believe me, you’ll be fine. Remember to introduce them to the class so no one is distracted during your lesson. Once you get up there and get going with your teaching, it will just be like a normal day. I literally forgot I was being observed about 10 minutes into the lesson. And if you mess up, it’s ok! You’re not going to be taken off and beaten or anything. Try to remember you are human and everyone makes mistakes. Be willing to own up to your mistakes and take the constructive criticism you are given during your post lesson conference and put it to good use. The observations are really to help you become a better teacher. I always take the advice given to me and try it out. If it does not work, you do not have to stick with it. However, I have found most of the advice really helps. Think of your observation just as another day and you will do so much better. Remember this, your cooperating teacher is observing you every day, so during a supervisor visit, it is just an extra set of eyes, that’s all.
Tip #10 – Don’t Assign So Much Homework
Of course students need homework, this is their practice for exams. However, you do not have to assign 30 problems every night. If you are only going to check for completeness, this is a waste of everyone’s time. Instead, assign 10-12 problems..or less. I assign about 8-10 problems to my more advanced, mature classes. The problems reflect what kind of material will be on a test. This way I am able to grade the majority of the problems, there is no way you can grade 30 problems every night for 100+ students. If there are fewer problems, the students are less intimidated and are more likely to try their homework. I have found when the assignment is larger, many students just copy answers from a friend. I know this because many people who sit together end up with the same wrong answers, and no work to back up their answer. So always make sure your students show work, even if it means writing down the formula and showing the numbers they plugged in. If students are just copying answers from a friend, how is that helping anyone? So only give them problems that are going to benefit them. It will work out better for everyone in the long run of things.
Tip #11–Get Your Students Out of Their Comfort Zone
In your education classes, you will often be told to get out of your comfort zone when you are teaching and try new things (i.e. hands-on learning instead of direct instruction). I totally agree. You should learn as many techniques as possible for teaching a concept. However, you should also think about the comfort zone of your students. Many students are used to doing things in a set way at school. They know how the class is structured and, for the most part, know exactly what to expect each day. Shake things up from time to time. Let students face some (controlled) adversity while in the classroom. Challenge your students in areas other than mathematics.
Allow me to explain myself. Before I started student teaching my Geometry class, students did basically the same thing everyday…a few notes…a worksheet…another worksheet…and then another worksheet. When completing the worksheets, students would informally work in small groups with their neighbors or friends. Students would often work with the same group of students day after day. One day I decided to be brave and shake things up a little bit. I planned an activity in which students would be assigned to small groups of 4-5 students each. When I went to assign students to each group, I experienced a lot of opposition from the students. They thought being assigned to groups was ridiculous and pleaded to pick their own groups. After a good ten minutes, all of the students were finally in their correct groups. For the most part, students worked cooperatively for the rest of class. An outside observer in that classroom would probably think the group activity was a disaster. I feel the activity was a success for several reasons: 1) the students completed the assignment, 2) the students worked cooperatively in groups, 3) the students had to work with people other than their friends, and 4) the students dealt with and overcame an aversive situation.
Since that day in Geometry, I have assigned my students to groups one other time. Getting students into their correct groups went a lot smoother the second time. I will continue to assign groups and use other techniques to get my students out of their comfort zone. What students gain from overcoming those challenges and aversive situations will go beyond the mathematics classroom.
Tip #12– Don’t Take Things Personal
Throughout your student teaching experience there will be many times when your supervisor, cooperating teacher, or even the students make comments about your teaching techniques. Don’t take these comments personal. This may be easier said than done, but you need to realize that you are still learning and both positive and negative criticisms are a part of the learning process. It is important to get different feedback from both your supervisors and your students. Occasionally ask the students what they like about your teaching methods and what they feel might need to change. This will strengthen your ability to teach the students as well as give them a sense that you care about what they want and need. Children are usually the best critics because they are less likely to sugarcoat the truth! Keep this fact in mind when asking and listen to what is being said. The supervisors, cooperating teachers, and even the students are there to help you through this learning process. They are there to make you the best teacher they can!
After every new activity I have done with my classes so far this semester, I have made it a point to ask the students opinion. I get feedback on their likes and dislike as well as assess their understanding of the material. After most activities my cooperating teacher will give brief statements on what went well and what didn’t. It is difficult to not personalize all the comments made about the lesson. I put hours and hard thought into this lesson and having it trashed by either the students or the supervisors feels awful. I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and remember that the comments are being said to me and not about me. I learn more from the comments about what needed to be changed or what didn’t go well. And even though I will not be able to teach the same material again before leaving for the semester the comments both negative and positive help when planning future lessons.
Tip #13– With the Good Comes the Bad
There will be days that it seems that you have failed. Pick yourself up and remember that tomorrow is another day. With the bad comes the good and with the good comes the bad. Learn from your mistakes, the studentsâ€™ mistakes, and any situations you leave with the thought of “well, that could have gone better.” There will be difficult day, difficult students, and difficult lessons. This is a part of teaching. If it were easy everyone would do it. There will be days that you will feel it couldn’t get better than this, while the next day you would pull your hair out from frustration. And these different emotions can happen within a matter of minutes, hours, or days. On the bad days remember the good. Keep a personal journal, or mental note, of good experiences in the classroom and refer back to those when you question, “Is this really what I want to do?”
There are a few students that know which buttons to push and how to push them. There are days that I question if I am cut out to be a teacher. I ask myself, “Do I really want to do this for the next 30 years of my life?” But, then there are the days when I have a student say after class, “I really learned something today” or have a student come after school hours for help and leave knowing more than they did walking in just a few moments ago. These are the rewards that come few and far between. I try to notice the little things, like one students increase in participation during class or the smile the students get on their face when they get a question correct. Sometimes the bad does not even come with the students, but the weather, the administration, the county or state demands. I have been trying to test my students for what seems like two weeks now, but with the snow, the block schedule, and the mandatory testing the students will never get to test over the material. Learning to modify and “go with the flow” will help with these many frustrations.
Tip #14–Over Plan!
Always over plan your lessons! When planning a lesson it is always better to be over prepared. There is nothing worse than teaching a lesson, using all of your if-time strategies and realizing you still have ten minutes left in class. Of course your students won’t complain but they will act up. The best way to avoid classroom management problems is to keep your students busy. I like to make sure I have multiple examples in each lesson, even if they seem to be repeats. If the class is running too long, you can always cut out a few examples or continue on with the lesson the next day. However, if the lesson is too short, it is extremely difficult to make up extra examples or find something else to keep the students attention on the spot. I have seen both types of classes, classes where I’m still teaching as the bell rings and classes where the students have nothing to do for ten minutes and I must say I much prefer the ones where I’m still teaching as the bell rings. So, over plan, over plan, over plan. And remember, you always have next class to finish what you did not get to!
Tip #15–Pace Yourself!
This is an important tip for both inside and outside of the classroom. As you teach your lessons, remember each class will have a different speed. Some classes will require more time to finish examples. Others will be able to fly through a lesson. The important thing is you pace yourself and your students. This starts with the planning. Try to estimate the amount of time each activity will take to ensure you have enough for each class to do. Also, apply this to the big picture. You also need to pace your units. Design your lessons so that the unit flows nicely and material is covered in a timely manner.
Outside of the classroom, pace yourself and the goals you set for yourself. At the beginning of student teaching, you will have all types of goals for yourself and things you want to do in your classroom. Try one new thing a week, rather than attempting them all at one time. If you try everything at once you will get overwhelmed. Adding a new teaching technique bit by bit will allow you to evaluate and reflect each new technique and you can better apply the techniques to your classroom.
Tip #16 – Don’t Sweat It!
All student teachers naturally feel very nervous when they first start teaching. It is a very common feeling of being scared of not knowing what to expect and not being used to being in front of students. Once you get started teaching the nervousness goes away and thats when everything we have learned over the years comes out. Being nervous your first time teaching is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that you let that stop you.. Being able to get through that fear is very important. Once you are able to get past the nervousness teaching is a lot of fun.
It is important that student teachers know that it may take a little bit longer for the students to get used to a different teaching style. Your cooperating teacher has their own style and for some students it is hard to get used to something different. But you must always remember that you are going to have a class of your own soon and from day one you and the students are developing relationships based on your personality and teaching style. So get passed the nervousness of being in the front of the classroom and start having fun with getting to know your students.
Tip #17 – Don’t Let A Few Students Intimidate You
As a new, young teacher you might run into some extremely bright math students. There are always going to be the students that excel in your class and get 100% on everything. These are typically the students that you can trust to compare your key with their answers. Sometimes these students think they are just as smart as their teacher, especially with new teachers right out of college. These students see a young teacher in the front of their class and they immediately don’t respect that teacher because of how old they look. New teachers cannot allow this to effect their teaching. There will always be those extremely smart students, but there are also students in the same class that need the in depth explanations that the other students might not. Being able to deal with this is very difficult. It is not a good idea to expect that all students learn as fast as some students. Going through the notes and explanations quickly to keep up with the above average students leaves the average students behind, lost, and confused. Being able to find a medium for both groups of students is very important. Just remember that you are in college graduate and you should be up there in front of the class teaching them. Do not get intimidated by these exceptional students and don’t let that change the way you operate your classroom.
Tip #18 – Get Outside Your Box
In your University classes you will learn about different methods of teaching and running your classroom. Do not assume that you already know your style of teaching but rather take the time to try out these different styles and not limit yourself to what you feel comfortable with. It is easier to try new things while you have an experienced teacher with you to help guide you. In our methods class we learned about cooperative learning groups and pairing students heterogeneously. I tried this out in my class by holding a tournament as a review. Students that are rarely involved participated and enjoyed themselves. By the end of the class students were successfully working together to find solutions. This just goes to show that you never really know how well something works until you try it.
Tip #19 – Learn Your Students’ Names Early
One of the first things you should do when starting your student teaching is to get a roster and begin to learn their names. It makes it so much easier to teach them when you know their names! When I first started observing for my student teaching, my teacher gave me a seating chart for each of his classes. While I observed, I sat there drilling myself on their names and tried to look for ways to remember who they were. I was able to watch their behavior and see who associated with whom, how they acted near certain people, etc. For me, these associations helped me learn their names.
Tip #20 – Help Out in Class
A good way to get involved in the class right from the start is by offering to help in class. You can help your cooperating teacher by offering to grade papers, run-off copies or helping students with their homework. This will show your cooperating teacher you are confident and ready to work in the classroom. It will also show the students you are more than just the person watching from the back of the room. Helping students with homework, especially, will make the transition much easier when you take over their class. One word of advice, though, is to make sure you don’t step on your teacher’s toes. Be helpful without getting in the way.
This is also a great way to get to know your students. By tutoring and working in smaller groups with students I was more comfortable once I actually started teaching their class. This will benefit both you and your students. You will see that students become more comfortable with you and begin asking questions freely throughout the class.
Tip #21–Don’t Limit Yourself to the Textbook.
Believe it or not this is not as easy as it sounds. It is easy to fall into the trap of only looking to the textbook provided for each class but if we limit ourselves to just this book we are missing out. There are many resources out there to help you develop your lesson plans and it is important to take advantage of them. There are many books and websites that are just filled with worksheets to be used in the classroom. Not to mention you may come across a different explanation that is more easily understood. It may just be a different look or approach at a problem that enables you to reach every student in your class.