When you’re a student teacher, you’re constantly swamped. You don’t have time for a job.
You start school earlier than everyone else. You will be responsible for teaching students. You have to wake up early. You have no social life.
These are the things I knew about student teaching two days before I officially started as a student teacher. And as a student who really likes lists, detailed syllabi, set expectations and mental preparation, not knowing exactly what to expect was a little scary.
And that got me thinking — student teaching is kind of mysterious. No one really seems to know exactly what student teachers do. After student teaching is over, most of the student teachers graduate, so there’s no one to come back and share survivor stories.
I’ve been a student teacher for seven weeks now and the experience has given me a whole new level of respect for teachers and student teachers as well. There is so much more to teaching than actually teaching. I’d say 25 percent of teaching is actually teaching and being in the classroom with students; the other 75 percent is planning time, meetings, personal and staff development and more. Teaching is a very full, full-time job.
I came back to Manhattan from holiday break on Jan. 2 and started school on Jan. 3. As a general rule, if your cooperating teacher — the teacher whose class you’re in for the semester — is at school, you are too. That applies to early mornings, too. I teach at Junction City High School, so I have to wake up bright and early by 5:40 a.m., groggily get ready, prepare some tea and leave my house by 6:30 a.m. to arrive at school by 7:05-7:10 a.m. As soon as I pull into the parking lot, I turn on the Ms. Gocken filter.
Ms. Gocken can’t cuss, laugh at dirty/toilet jokes, check Facebook, text or listen to an iPod. Since I’m used to just being Lauren, who regularly indulges in all of the above, having to put on the filter of Ms. Gocken all day is actually pretty tiring. The filter affects everything I do when I’m at school. When I’m a teacher, I have to be “on” whenever there’s the possibility of students around.
Each day’s tasks are a little different, but there are a few things that I can count on doing each week. I observe my cooperating teacher teaching the elective classes and advising the publications. I take attendance, handle late students, update the grade book, grade papers and complete other overlookable tasks that will make my teacher’s life easier. I get to teach and plan the lessons for the advanced digital imaging classes. I attend every meeting or in-service my teacher goes to, and let me tell you, there are lots of meetings: all-staff meetings, academy/department meetings, career cluster meetings, parent-teacher conferences, district in-services, building in-services and more. Teaching requires much more than just teaching.
A large component of student teaching is co-teaching, which requires me to work and plan closely with my cooperating teacher. I was very, very lucky to get placed with my teacher — we get along exceptionally. I know not everyone gets so lucky with their cooperating teacher’s compatibility, so this is something I’m thankful for every day.
I get observed, aka graded, by my cooperating teacher as well as my clinical instructor and university supervisor; my academy principal, department head and other teachers can also observe me. An observation is a period where one of my supervisors observes and writes suggestions over a class period that I teach by myself. Observations always make me nervous. These are the same types of observations that professional teachers get from principals to make sure they’re teaching well.
I have to have at least five different observations for my final portfolio, which is the cumulative project of the semester. My degree, my graduation and my ability to get a teaching license all ride on the successful completion of the portfolio. It isn’t difficult, but it does require a lot of time and attention to detail. The portfolio includes the observations plus a unit plan with all the assessment data from student work, and observations of my classroom and students’ contextual factors.
Student teachers are held to a professional standard because they’re directly responsible for their students’ learning. Even though I’m a student teacher, I have influence and impact on my students so I can’t rely on the tag of “student” teacher to get me out of mistakes.
All this being said, the semester is more like a full-time internship experience than a regular class. Like internships, you only get out what you put in, so what each person walks away with depends on what they wanted. The hours are challenging. The work takes over your life. The schedule isn’t accommodating to late nights, long weekends or a social life. The students can be quite obnoxious.
But it’s worth it. It’s a real-world opportunity to see exactly what it takes to be a full-time teacher and if teaching is really the profession you want for the rest of your life.
Lauren Gocken is a senior in secondary education. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org