Saturday, February 20, 2010

The student teaching component

Some people call it an extended job interview. Others call it the best learning experience of their lives. Still others consider it to be a time of painful out-growing of naive, idealistic hopes and dreams.

I call it all of the above.

Everybody's student teaching experiences are going to be different, even if the requirements (set by the university where the credential program is held) are different.

Which leads to the most frequently asked question on student teaching that I've heard yet: why do the requirements differ from university to university? I don't know, although I can guess. Some places only require four weeks of shadowing a classroom teacher. Others, like CSUS, requires two full semesters - one at part-time (i.e. half of each week), and the other at full-time (basically all day everyday). I did all my student teaching at Title I schools, and even though they had a lot in common, they had even more differences.

Room 10, first iteration.

My first student teaching experience was in a first grade classroom at a Title I school. It is my favorite out of the three. It was difficult, exhausting, fun, frustrating. I grew the most, as a teacher, here, in large part due to the highly hands-on, guidance my CT gave me. I walked in apprehensive of 5-7 year olds, and walked out armed with skills, knowledge, and confidence for the next step. I also learned to love teaching first graders. They are hilarious.

Room 14 - ominous, since "14" in Chinese means "certain death." The woman in this photo was a fellow student teacher. I got a lot of support from my fellow student teachers while at this school. Thank you!

My next student teaching assignment was at a school that had recently undergone various administrative changes. They had four different principals in as many years before the one that was there (still is, I think) when I was there. The students were pretty much like most students I've seen. They all have their own individual baggage of course, but I never viewed that as a handicap, or an excuse. Still don't.

I never really fitted in at this school. Never really understood the reason why, but I guess "why?" is a moot question. I just didn't make it. Period. There were many subtle undercurrents within the intermediate teaching staff that I grasped not at all - and liked even less. While I was there, I got the feeling that the primary teaching staff - in general a much more uniformly formal group, at least on school grounds - looked down upon the intermediate teachers. Including me, a person they had just met. A lot of this occurred, a lot of "inside jokes" and clichishness. A lot of rumors. A type of casualness with the students I didn't feel comfortable with.

I learned a lot in the short seven-and-a-half weeks I was here. A lot in terms of depth AND breadth AND intensity. This experience is listed on my resume, despite some people telling me that isn't a good idea. I am not ashamed of what I did here. I was prepared. I worked hard. I gave my excellence at this place, for these students. It wasn't enough to get on any where near the medal podium. Sometimes your best is not enough. So goes life.

Room 10, second iteration.

My phase-3-take-2 was at an incredible rare school - winner of various awards, including the Title I Academic Achievement School for nearly a decade. Straight. The students here were the sweetest I've ever met. The staff here actually enjoyed teaching nearly all the time - and they enjoyed working with each other. The front office people are the nicest. Ever. And I've seen a lot of front office people through teaching after school art.

I had it easy at this school, not just in comparison to the previous semester, but relative to the entire realm of classroom teaching. Thus, I became a bit complascent and fell into some difficult to correct bad teaching habits. My CT had to lay it down pretty hard before I even began to get out of that rut.

Towards the end of my student teaching here, I got the opportunity to observe 3/4 of the entire staff at work. Most of them were excellent. There were a few who were good, but were given the short end of the stick and were struggling to corret it (one teacher entered in the middle of the semester because of staff changes, and another had to deal with a class that the student teacher ruined). Watching them, and their classes, was eye-opening. There were a small handful that were horrible - even I, n00b and green, could see that. My CT had advised me to watch these people. He didn't tell me why, he was just pretty adamant about it, so I went. Afterwards, he told me he wanted me to see some really bad teaching in action from these teachers - I wasn't the only one who thought they could improve much.

And there you have it: my 2.5 semesters worth of student teaching summarized, and yet there is so much more that occured than in just this summary. So goes teaching in general. I can summarize my thoughts in reflection until my fingers fall off, but it still doesn't say it all.

Then again, some things are more powerful unsaid.

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