Exactly one year ago I was getting ready to start my student teaching journey. I packed up everything I knew and moved back into my parents house with a little bit of fear and a lot of excitement for what was to come. Since then I’ve graduated college, made lifelong friendships from the school I student taught at, and scored a job at a dream school. It definitely wasn’t easy but looking back on it I have so many pieces of advice on my heart that I wish someone had told me!
I wish I could sit down over a cup of coffee and tell each one of you reading this the blessing that student teaching is. Don’t get me wrong though, it is a few months of the highest highs and the lowest lows I’ve ever felt teaching. I’ve put together a list of 10 things you need to know before walking in your new classroom that first day!
Student teaching is one of the scariest ways to start a profession, and one of the best if you ask me! It is a time to figure things out as they come, mess up (A LOT), and learn. There are going to be many times when you’re in that classroom when someone mentoring you asks you to do something you’re unsure of, but say yes every time. For example, the Principal gave me options for what class I wanted to be a student teacher in. Two were social studies, and one was 7th Grade Writing. I hated 7th grade. It was an awful year of school for me, and I was most scared of that option. I decided that I should just go for it though, because I would have the most help when I was student teaching, and it helped me overcome my fear of 7th grade.
My number one piece of advice to learn how to manage any classroom is to get to know your students. Most of them think it’s really cool that they have another teacher, and starting a relationship with them day one shows that you care! I know you care, but students need to feel that you care! Get on their level. Ask if they need help. Show them that you are on their side. It makes the transition to teaching in front of the whole class way less daunting if you already have bonds formed from the first couple of weeks!
With a busy school day, it can be hard to get out of the classroom and meet others that work at the school you are student teaching at. It can also be awkward if it’s month 3 and someone doesn’t know who you are. I always made it a point to say hello to all teachers and staff at my school, and get to know them whenever I had a chance! Ask your mentor teacher to give you a tour during planning that first week. I recommend that you know the school receptionist, any leadership, the counselors, the nurse, and the teachers on your team to start! On top of that, spend time in other teacher’s rooms as much as you can! This is definitely easier towards the end of student teaching, but if you ever have a moment to pop in to another teacher’s room do it!
The picture below is of my sweetest mentor teacher and I. I wish I got to teach with her forever!
This one seems super obvious, but ask questions! I promise there are no silly questions when it comes down to the fact that you are teaching kiddos on your own throughout student teaching, and eventually in a job! It is super important that you ask questions about how your mentor teacher runs their classroom when you start. It is also super important to ask questions like “where is the bathroom and when are the usual best times to go?” before you end up in a situation haha! Hopefully your mentor teacher will want to help you as much as possible, and they were in your shoes once too!
It is easy to view student teaching as a time to learn from others, but it can also be a great opportunity for others to learn from you! After all, you are coming out of a program that has been teaching you the very best practices for teaching, and it usually has been years since your mentor teacher has received that many hours of Professional Development. When I student taught, I helped my mentor teacher do a lot of station activities with middle school ELA. I also helped her learn a lot of tech tricks using Google Drive that she didn’t know before!
Teaching is so much more fun when it’s collaborative. I crave throwing ideas around with my mentor teacher to this day. If you are nervous about sharing an idea you have, here is an idea for how to go about it! “I had this idea for how we could teach ____ . What would that look like in our classroom?” Many times, your mentor teacher will help you refine the idea and let you teach it! It is so exciting to teach for the first time, and it is way easier if you get to make it your own!
Being a part of the school community is one of my most favorite things I did when I was a student teacher. I made it a point to know what was going on at the school before or after school and did all that I could to go to a few things throughout my time there. Also, it’s a good idea to attend any duties with your cooperating teacher as well. I helped with the morning car rider line on Tuesdays and I had the best time getting to know the school security guard during that 20 minutes once a week. I still hug him when I see him!
Some of my favorite experiences were going to a play, helping time at a track meet, and being a DJ at our field day. It’s times like these where you get to show students you really care about them as a whole. It is also a great opportunity to show administrators that you want to be a part of what the school is doing since they have to be at these events too. You can share about this in interviews no matter where you go!
It is so easy to feel like there is so much on your plate in this season of life because there is. Student teaching is a great time to be an extra brain or set of hands when needed because it gives you experience. Many times people wonder if you’d want to do things, but are unsure of the level of responsibility you are willing to take on. If you take initiative and ask if you can help with anything, it shows your mentor teacher and leadership that you are a team player who is eager to learn! It also makes doing the same tasks in your own classroom way easier. I always helped with seating charts and creating slides, which are both tasks I don’t mind now because I’ve had a lot of practice.
This picture is from me stepping in to teach during National Read Aloud Day. My mentor teacher snapped it and put it on her twitter!
Everyone’s goal at the end of student teaching is to get a job somewhere, right? Start your job hunt early! I’m not saying apply the first month you’re student teaching, but it is actually crazy how early you can score a job! After all, you are on a job interview every single day you’re student teaching on that campus. That’s probably the best job interview out there if you like where you student teach at!
I’ll share the timeline I got my job in. My cooperating teacher helped me get my resume done in February. I started looking around in March and emailing principals at schools I was interested in. I had 2 job interviews the first week of April, I got a call for my current position 20 minutes after my interview! CRAZY RIGHT? I didn’t take my current job right away because it was only my second interview, but things move way faster than you think. I can do a whole separate post on the job search if you want because if you are strategic, you might be able to snag a job early too!
The best advice I can give is to put your best foot forward every single day because whether you think it or not, people are looking at you. Even if you don’t get a job where you are student teaching, principals likely know people at other schools if you are applying in the same area!
This picture is from me setting up my classroom the night before school started! It all comes full circle eventually I promise!
Student teaching can be so hard on you mentally and physically. Don’t let it consume your life. After all, you aren’t the one getting paid to worry about things just yet! Take time on the weekends to do things with friends and family. Watch your favorite show on a Tuesday night if you want to. If your program gives you a day or two to be absent and you start feeling under the weather, take a day off! Have a positive mindset and know that one bad day doesn’t equal 20 bad days in the classroom. Talk things out with your mentor teacher when things get hard. If you need help because you’re unsure about how to do something, ask! You don’t have to feel the pressure to be perfect.
You are there to love on kids and learn. If you are doing both of those things I promise you are in good shape! It is so easy to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders as you learn about student’s stories, take on more responsibility, start looking for a job, all while trying to have a life. It is so important do do things that fill your soul outside of school, and especially student teaching. You don’t want to be burnt out of one of the most rewarding professions before you even truly begin!
Student teaching can be an incredible growth period. You’ll notice throughout this post I used the words your students to love, and your classroom to learn and facilitate learning in. That’s because it is your space to teach too, even if your mentor teacher doesn’t see it that way. I hope each and every one of you have a mentor teacher that embraces you with open arms, and invites you to be a part of the community they are cultivating.
It is so exciting once you get going to see students learn, develop your teaching style, and get to know your school. By the time you are done student teaching, you’ll have so much knowledge to take into your own classroom. You’ll also have a lifetime of memories to reflect on. Keep every sweet note a student gives you and read them on hard days. Remember those moments where you spelled something on the board wrong and the whole class erupts with laughter behind you. Be silly. Be the teacher you needed when you were younger. I learned student teaching that I needed to be the 7th grade teacher I didn’t have. Let me be one of many to welcome you into this crazy amazing profession. You didn’t make a mistake and you didn’t find yourself here by accident.
It is SO important to document the amazing things you do throughout your time student teaching! My mentor teacher encouraged me to make a twitter account to post lessons on, and gave me recommendations of people to follow. I put my twitter handle on my resume so that when I applied for jobs, principals could look me up and see what I was doing in the classroom. It really is SO important that you have a space to document (preferably digitally through social media if you can) your student teaching experience so that people looking to hire you know that you do know what you’re doing especially because you do not have years of experience to draw on.
I also made a separate Instagram while I was student teaching, and got so many amazing ideas from there to bring back to my mentor teacher and try out! (I shared the picture above after my first week of real teaching)! My twitter is school stuff still and I connect with educators in and around my district on it. I keep my Instagram for fun and inspiration! The best place to find me is over on Instagram, where I often story about my daily life and post about style, simplicity, and a little bit of teaching too! You can find me @simplyemilye and if you come from the blog, message me and say hello!