Student teachers are collaborators, confidantes, co-teachers, and co-planners but the start of the year for many student-teachers can be filled with growing pains.
As the co-director of a teacher-preparation program, I supervise fourteen English interns from Penn State University. Each intern is placed with an experienced English teacher, and he/she works closely to learn and grow over the course of a school year. This month, Melissa, my teaching partner and the other co-director, and I have been having conversations with our interns about making the shift from student to teacher.
Here’s some advice we have offered to our interns over the first few weeks of school:
1. Focus on Students
The best part of our job is working with students and building relationships with them. We believe that interns teach best when they teach from who they are and use their own experiences to connect with students. To emerge as a reflective and responsive teacher, we invite our interns to observe student behavior, notice patterns in learning habits, styles, inquire into students’ interests and activities outside the classroom, and to engage in “teacher talk” with mentors and other colleagues. These observations are critical to making informed decisions in the classroom and offer an intern a means to find his/her voice in a way that will support students.
2. Take Initiative (and what that looks like)
Time and again, we hear from mentors: “I want my intern to take initiative.” For an pre-service teacher this may be hard to visualize. Our best advice to interns would be to take action. Circulate through the classroom or sit and work with students at their workstations. Volunteer to start class or cover the daily agenda with the students. Offer to create a quiz, worksheet, or to take home papers to grade over a night or weekend. Think out loud with your mentor about the ideas you find moving or compelling. Ask your mentor reflective questions about students, pedagogy, and practice. Bring connections (a movie clip, a song, an article, etc.) from your own experiences to texts and units of study and share freely, openly, and regularly. Or simply ask, “What can I do to help?”
3. Prepare as if you were guiding the lessons for the day
Interns confess that, “I just don’t know what say” or “My mentor is doing such a great
job that I don’t want to interrupt.” To get interns past this hurdle, we advised them to prepare extensively. Beyond annotating a text, we suggest that interns think through what ideas go well together from a text, article, or unit of study, generate a list of discussion questions to ask students and envision possible literacy activities to extend learning. These steps help interns to build confidence and support in transitioning their thinking from student to teacher.
4. Dress it up!
Often, an internship or student-teacher placement can lead to employment. Attending to professional dress helps others colleagues, faculty, staff, and administrators identify you as a teacher and a member of the school community. Attire can also set an intern apart for his/her students. Sometimes looking the part starts to help interns feel the part.
5. Show up ready to work
A teacher’s day starts well before the first bell and often extends into the evening. Coming to school on time, attending faculty and department meetings, and checking possible distractions at the door goes a long way to support an intern’s understanding of what it is like to live the life of a teacher and how to strike a manageable home-work balance.
Finally, it takes a village to nurture an intern. Melissa and I may be officially responsible for the supervision of our interns, but we could not do it without the guidance, support and experience of our mentors and university consultants and director. We are fortunate to be a part of an amazing and collaborative teaching community.