A Brick in the Road: 10 Tips for Student Teachers
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
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! Here she is:
10 Tips for Student Teachers
Having a strong spiritual connection to 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. With the click of her heels, she finds her way back home, feeling content and well-adjusted.
Student teaching was not nearly as simple as clicking my heels, but I certainly made some 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 I get to teach the most resilient, funny, brilliant students in the world. As you approach this brick in the road that will lead 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 were thrown one way and my legs the other. I realized that it was not essential to have "perfect" students but 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 show that 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 was afraid of 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 then everything else will fall into place.
2. Grab Arms With Your Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow
Dorothy was lucky because although she ventured into the land of 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. 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