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A Brick in the Road: 10 Tips for Student Teachers

Updated: Mar 13

You have to meet Brittany Cohen, a first-year teacher. She has fantastic advice for all of you student teachers out there! We immediately bonded over our love for all things Wizard of OZ!

10 Tips for Student Teachers

Having a strong spiritual connection to The Wizard of Oz, I'd like to compare my student-teaching experience to that of Dorothy Gale. Dorothy, a young girl trying to find her purpose "over the rainbow somewhere,” takes a journey where she gets lost, makes a few special friends, faces her fears, and realizes her full potential. She finds her way home with the click of her heels, feeling content and well-adjusted.

Student teaching was not nearly as simple as clicking my heels, but I made incredible friends, had mentors as strong as Glinda, and made it out alive twice. I won't lie; most days, getting through student teaching felt like stumbling through the woods while malicious trees pelted me with apples.  However, I had other days where I had plenty of little munchkins and beautiful characters that helped me find the courage to keep going.

Eventually, I found my place as a Special Education teacher and taught the world's most resilient, funny, brilliant students. As you approach this brick in the road leading you to your own home as a teacher, I'd like to reach into my little black bag of student teaching experiences and offer tips that might help you along the way.

1. Love Those Little Munchkins, No Matter What

When I began student teaching, I often daydreamed about meeting my students. In my mind, I had the best-behaved, most positive little munchkins who loved school and followed every direction. On my first day, I stood before them for the first time and realized this was simply a daydream.

My "perfect" students turned out to be talkative and squirmy, who would lose focus, get angry at me, and sometimes try to tear me apart limb from limb. When I finished my first activity with them, I felt my arms and legs thrown one way and the other. I realized that having "perfect" students was not essential; I needed to love them for who they were and help them. Above all else, the essential part of student teaching is showing your students that you love them daily.

Build trust with them, get to know what makes their little hearts tick, what gives them the spooks, and what helps their little brains grow. Be firm and fair, and how they can come to you for anything. Chances are, they are dealing with emotions that make them grab their tails and shake with fear. I remember I had a little munchkin who feared bees and would have panic attacks if she saw any at recess. I helped her overcome this fear by teaching her to take deep breaths and remember that she was bigger and stronger than any bee. After this interaction, she felt she could come to me with any other concerns during the school day, and we built trust. Build this trust, make these connections, and everything else will fall into place.

2. Grab Arms With Your Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow

Dorothy was lucky because although she ventured into Oz alone, she found her crew immediately. She had the Scarecrow reminding her that it was okay not to know everything in the world. The Cowardly Lion shows her how to fight anxiety and find the courage within, and The Tin Man encourages her never to lose his heart.

When I was student teaching, I was lucky enough to have my special crew because I had been assigned to a school where I worked for several years. While starting at a school where you might not know everyone, remember that each school has its lovable figures. Some new teachers feel as though they have straw for brains and would like nothing more than to learn along the way with you; there are teachers and staff who face great anxieties but can offer you tools and hugs to get you through your own, and most of all, there are teachers and staff who have hearts so big you can hear them ticking through the hallways. Find those teachers and staff who will fill these roles for you. If you are unsure where to start, start with your grade-level team. Please get to know them and go to them for anything you need. Get to know everyone from the paraprofessionals to the custodians. Grab arms with those who will help you face all those lions, tigers, and bears, no matter who they are.

3. Don't Worry, Your Supervisor Is not a Wicked Witch  

I am incredibly grateful that my student-teaching supervisor was a Glinda-type. She gave me my metaphorical ruby-red slippers and offered kindness, understanding, and constant reassurance. Many times during my student teaching, I felt as though I was stuck in a twister of emotions and preferred lying crushed under a fallen house rather than facing the classroom every day. My supervisor reminded me of my potential and passion for teaching during these times. As a new student teacher, you might feel intimidated by your supervisor, especially when they come in for observations. However, they can be precious, so go to them for anything. If you are nervous about an upcoming observation, ask what you might expect. If you feel discouraged by your evaluation score, be honest and ask what you can do to improve. I promise they will not drop a house on you.

Regarding your observations, remember to engage with your students, have well-planned lessons, and, above all, put forth your best effort. I had four observations during my program, but no matter how many you have, you have the power to rock them.  Check out for the supervisor's secret sauce!

4. Grab That Tail, Face Those Spooks, Ask Those Questions

Throughout my whole student teaching experience, I was terrified to ask questions. Whenever I wanted to ask a question to my cooperating teacher or anyone else I felt was more significant than Oz, I stumbled through my words. I preferred jumping out of a stained-glass window to asking for what I needed.

What I learned, though, is that asking questions is necessary to grow and learn as a student teacher and prevents miscommunications and small mistakes. So please, face those spooks and ask those questions. Ask how to fill out your teaching log, and find out how to use a high-tech pencil sharpener or even that dreaded SmartBoard. Remember that you are not yet a teacher but a student teacher and are there to learn. No one expects you to know everything. After all, questions are only as intimidating as that man behind the curtain.

5. I Think I'll Miss My Cooperating Teachers The Most

One of the best parts of student teaching is learning under a great and powerful cooperating teacher. Cooperating teachers share their resources, students, and years of wisdom with you.  If you are lucky, you might end up hugging your cooperating teacher on the last day of your programs like Dorothy and the Scarecrow, saying, "I think I'll miss you the most." However, this kind of relationship does not happen as quickly as with Dorothy and the Scarecrow.

Building a solid relationship with your cooperating teacher takes compromise, trust, communication, and understanding. Tension will arise when you are in a classroom with another human being, trying to wrangle all of the responsibilities of teaching twenty or more little munchkins at once. In these times, the most important thing to do is communicate. Take the time to sit down with each other and discuss what might have gone wrong and, ultimately, how to fix it. In my experience with my cooperating teachers, the most productive conversations consisted of vulnerability, honesty, and clarity of what we both needed to survive the school day. As a student teacher, you might feel the pressure to put on a brave face and take what is thrown at you but do not be afraid, and be honest with yourself and your cooperating teacher.

6. No, Your Brain Is Not Made of Straw

I was student-teaching most of my time and felt like my brain was made of straw. I was surrounded by these brilliant veteran teachers with a wealth of knowledge I did not think I would ever attain. Eventually, I realized that instead of feeling discouraged about the knowledge I did not have, I should build on the knowledge I had from the get-go. Personally, Social Studies was the content area in which I felt the least confident.

After a few honest and challenging conversations with my cooperating teacher about how crucial it was to know and convey history to our students, I strengthened this content knowledge. I read through textbooks, watched documentaries, and applied historical events to my interests. I even studied from my student's point of view and used many resources intended for them to understand the subject better. Wherever you are regarding content knowledge, remember you have an intelligent brain. When you get discouraged and sing in an artificial cornfield, use your resources and study. 

7. Remember You Have A Heart, Can You Feel It Ticking?

There were many student teaching times when I cried so much that I thought I would need an oil can to keep from rusting over. I would get so discouraged that I would forget why I even wanted to teach in the first place. While I would not wish this feeling on any other student teacher, this will likely happen.

In these times, remember what put you on this yellow brick road in the first place. Perhaps what made you love teaching was working with kids and watching them grow or learning something new daily. Perhaps it was that feeling of a warm pile of copies freshly printed from the copy machine or the excitement you get over seeing new school supplies at Target. Remember that you have a heart for this, and feel it ticking.

8. You've Always Had The Power, Don't Let Anyone Take It From You

You might even have little munchkins waiting to push you over the edge with all their might. Be confident. Be you. Remember that you've always had the power to teach and teach well.

9. Close Your Eyes, Click Those Heels, And Breathe

Student teaching can be overwhelming and sometimes makes you feel like you are racing against an hourglass, with sand quickly depleting. In these moments, pause and breathe. Go to the bathroom or the teacher's lounge and breathe by yourself; breathe with your cooperating teacher; stand in front of the classroom and breathe with your students. Chances are, they will all need it too. Click your heels if you have to. The hourglass can wait.

10. Find Your Way Over The Rainbow, And Keep Going

On my last day of student teaching, one of my little munchkins gave me a card, and upon reading it, I remembered what made it all worth it. I could walk out of the classroom on my last day without feeling sad, but when I got this card, I knew I had a heart because it was breaking. Student teaching was my career's most thrilling and rigorous experience thus far. However, I made it through with more brains, courage, and heart than when I began. You will make it, too. Just take my little munchkin’s advice and keep going.

I want to give a special thanks to Samantha Fecich for inviting me to write for her blog. Samantha, when I was going through my darkest days as a student teacher, you reached out to me and told me, "You have the heart, brains, and courage to be an educator of excellence." Thank you for those words and for helping me make it through student teaching. Fellow student teachers, carry these words down the yellow brick road of student teaching! 

My name is Brittany Cohen, and I am a recent graduate of Grand Canyon University with a Master's in Elementary Education. I am currently a Special Education teacher at an alternative school in Germantown for emotionally at-risk youth. I have been teaching for about half a school year and am about to enter my first official year. I teach the most resilient, funny, and knowledgeable students worldwide, and I love teaching.

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