Student Teaching: Making the Most of Your First Classroom Experience
Depending on your teacher education program, you’ll be expected to spend an extended time in a working classroom as a student-teacher. This on-site residency is your first opportunity to practice and refine your teaching skills under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher.
Student teaching is more than a mere formality — if you make the most of the experience, you are far more likely to use it as a springboard to a full-time position after you graduate.
Think of student teaching as an extended job interview
Take a moment to consider your mindset on your student-teaching experience. If you approach it as the first step toward getting a full-job, you’ll get much more from the experience than if you see it as a one-time, 10- to 20-week visit into a working classroom.
Every single thing you do in that school sends a message about your potential to your teacher and administrators . But what if you don’t necessarily want to work in the school where you’re completing your residency? Don’t let this get in the way of taking the work seriously — your cooperating teacher may still be a reference for your future employer. Given that you’ll have very little real-life experience as a teacher when you graduate from your preparation program, every experience matters a lot.
Create strong points of reference
I’ve interviewed hundreds of teachers who share a common trait: Student teaching is their only point of reference for working in the classroom. Some candidates struggle to answer questions because they really haven’t done much in the classroom and therefore don’t have a strong point of reference.
The candidates who’ve thrown themselves into their work, however, can speak with relatively strong authority about what they’ll do when hired as classroom teachers. Being thorough and efficient in your student-teaching practice will load you up with many talking points that improve your prospects during the hiring process.
Confirm that teaching is for you
Few people graduate from college 100 percent certain that they’ve chosen the right college major. That’s why it’s a good idea to use the student-teaching experience to confirm that teaching is the profession you really want to do. I’ve had student-teachers who, after extended time in the classroom, realized that this isn’t for them and decided to switch their majors or pursue a different field in education.
Doing the work to the best of your ability is important in making sure that you’re not locking yourself into a profession that will ultimately disappoint you.
Help out with extracurricular activities
While your primary classroom duty will be to practice and hone your teaching skills, all schools have extracurricular, club and sports programs that could use a helping hand. Check with the school administration to see if you can assist with those programs. Not only will this give you more exposure to working with children, but it also adds a few more valuable lines to your resume, and perhaps brings another talking point to an eventual interview.
The very best teachers I work with, especially when they are young and relatively unfettered with other life responsibilities, do more than just teach in their schools.
See the big picture
While there are a lot of reasons to work hard as a student-teacher, the most important one is that this is the one opportunity that you will have to develop your teaching skills before you enter the classroom full time.
Be sure to pay close attention to your cooperating teacher, who most likely will have a strong track record for excellence in the classroom. Take note of how your teacher organizes the classroom, interacts with students, masters the curriculum and delivers the content.
Following these tips will create a valuable experience that can carry you out of your teacher-preparation program and into your first full-time teaching position. Good luck!