How to Help Student-Teachers Feel Prepared

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This school year, I plan to take on a classroom of "my own" for the first time.

Compared to nearly all of you, I am inexperienced—still a novice in our field. But even at this moment, I know I have a tremendous advantage over many other new teachers: I had a substantial internship with an expert teacher who was also a skilled mentor. And that advantage will also extend to my students.

Based on my experiences, I'd like to offer some tips for preparing student-teachers to succeed in the classroom.

Help your intern learn how to be reflective.

Mrs. S taught me how to reflect on my teaching in meaningful ways. Every time I taught a lesson, Mrs. S and I talked about things I did well, and discussed how I could improve next time.

She made sure to ask me what I thought before sharing her opinion. This was critical. Over time, I learned to review my teaching realistically, be aware of what worked and what didn't, and understand how to tweak and modify for the next lesson.

Make sure your intern is familiar with your students' areas of strength and need.

Like many preservice teachers, my internship took place in the spring semester, halfway through the academic year. Mrs. S showed me photos of each student and offered some social and academic background.

This helped me get to know students better and informed my instruction. I could determine which students to check in with for understanding, and which students I could call on to help move the lesson or concept forward. I could make better decisions about when and how to group students, and what approaches to take.

(Yes, I'll have to assess and get to know my students on my own this year—perhaps with some help from colleagues. But even if I walk in blind, I will have a better sense of how to assess them because of my work with Mrs. S.)

Introduce your intern to every aspect of teaching—including what goes on outside the classroom.

Teaching in the 21st century isn't just about what you do behind your classroom door. Far from it. I sat in on meetings, workshops, professional-learning communities, teams within teams, parent conferences, and faculty committees.

When administrators decided 4th and 5th grade teachers would pilot online grades and report cards, I was there to hear the teachers' questions, concerns, and strategies firsthand.

Throughout these meetings, the school's administrators, Mrs. S, and her teaching colleagues made sure that I felt welcome to offer my opinion and ask questions.

Let your intern teach.

This one seems obvious, of course. But I think that how Mrs. S handled it was especially effective—for me and the students.

We started off small—I began by taking over the math block after the first week. This gave me a taste of how to really prepare a unit and lessons (because lesson planning in university classes certainly did not!). I had a lot to learn about timing and how best to make transitions.

Little by little, I began to plan and instruct the other subjects as well—first science and social studies, then reading and language arts. By the end of March, I was responsible for planning and teaching the entire day!

I'll be honest. My senior internship did more to prepare me than the previous three years of coursework and observations—due in large part to Mrs. S's influence.

She went far beyond the "supervising teacher" role to become my mentor. She taught me how to collaborate and how to participate in the entire school environment. She was open and welcoming—willing to share her own experiences and guide me to my own understandings.

Perhaps most extraordinary was her insistence on self-reflection: that being a teacher is as much about knowing how to learn as it is about knowing how to teach.

I plan to take on my own classroom this year, and I know that I still have a lot to learn. I’m an expert on one thing: how to know a great mentor when I find one. And that feels like a pretty good start.

What about you? What did your mentor do for you? How do you "pass it on" to students you are charged with supervising?

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