300 hours, 50 days, and 12 full weeks later, I have completed my Student Teaching experience.
It’s time to celebrate! Break out the brooms and dustpans and cardboard boxes!
Haha, that’s right! At the moment celebration has been put on hold so that I can pack up my apartment and say goodbye to campus life (*sniff-sniff*). I’ve been cleaning for most of the day, but had to take a break to wait for my laundry to dry, so I figured I should update my small blue thing readers on how student teaching finished out for me.
It was amazing. Of all the wonderful programs and classes I have been involved with at school these past four years, student teaching was by far the most rewarding and most valuable. My top five things that I learned/improved on this semester:
- Flexibility. In every meaning of the word. I learned how to let things happen (like a fire drill, for instance) and take it in stride with the lesson as best I could. I also learned how to change a lesson completely on the spot when I realized it wasn’t working- a disconcerting situation, but a very real one, and I’ll admit after I was prepared for it it got kind of fun. I’m not typically one for thinking on my feet, but when I’m teaching, it’s like a constant puzzle trying to make sure my students are engaged and learning in the most efficient way possible. I also learned that technology is fantastic when it’s fantastic, and annoying when it’s annoying, and that you can’t count on either one from day to day. I learned to have a range of activities for all those different students– the ones who don’t enjoy singing or who can’t sing because of religious beliefs, the ones who like to hit things, the ones who are good at listening and the ones who are good at doing math. Of course flexibility is preached day in and day out to education students, but you really can’t be taught that from a book or a lecture, and I feel that this experience has finally let me wet my feet a little in the vast ocean of adaptation.
- Passion. Phew! I knew I loved music. I also knew I loved children. I even knew I loved teaching, long before I went to college. But, I did not realize how passionately I loved those things until I started teaching my own classes. It was overwhelming how much I cared about these students I had never seen before, and how badly I wanted them to understand that all I wanted was the best for them, that everything I did every day was with the end goal of helping them learn. It can make things difficult because it makes it hard not to take it personally when students don’t want to participate, or misbehave. But that, I discovered, really never had anything to do with me. It goes right into my third thing…
- Students have lives too. Whaaatttt? We often complain about students not realizing that teachers have lives and other things to do besides just giving a lesson every day, but sometimes I think that teachers forget that students have lives outside of school too. Students have parents and siblings and extra curricular activities and challenges and sickness and pets… all these factors that affect their participation and their learning. This is the true challenge of teaching in a public school. There are so many students, all with their own individual needs, and the spectrum of needs is incredibly vast. I learned this semester that before I jump to conclusions or dive into a lesson, I need to make sure I actually understand who my students are and where they are coming from. Otherwise, I could end up fighting a losing battle trying to get them engaged in something in which they have no interest and see no value.
- STEAL ALL THE IDEAS. My CT this semester was awesome, and I literally took pictures of her entire classroom, asked for copies of music, wrote down every little lesson idea and classroom management method she used, and asked her random questions about how she does everything. Do I plan on copying her exactly word for word in my own classroom? No. I’m not her, and nothing I do will ever change that, and I’m ok with that. However, I know this- you can’t be your best without trying out a lot of different ideas, and the best place to get good ideas to try is from people who are good at what you want to be good at. Neil Gaiman said: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.” I’ve learned this first hand this semester. I tried copying my CT exactly on some things, and when I found it wasn’t working because, as I said, we’re different people, I let myself experiment with new ways and found areas of strength and weakness within my own personality. That’s what Student Teaching is for. That’s what life is for, really. We get a good idea, pursue it, and then gladly adapt ourselves when we see what works and what doesn’t.
- Last but not least: Objectives first, then lesson plan. I feel like one of those education textbooks. We always like to think we’re more clever than a book, but I’m afraid I have to admit that those books were written by good teachers, and they knew more than me. The temptation to create a lesson based on a cool activity or a specific song or dance or instrument you want to use is strong. Incredibly strong. You go on Pinterest and see a fantastic music idea and say, “Oo! Let me use this somehow. I’m sure I can fit it in.” That doesn’t lead to good lessons. In student teaching, my worst lessons were the ones where I focused on getting one activity in that I just wanted to do because it was fun. My best ones were the ones I planned starting from the foundation up– the ones where I started with “What do my students need to learn from this lesson?” You start with the what– the objective, the state standard, if you have them, and then you think about how you will know if they learned it. What will my students be able to do if they’ve grasped this concept? What changes will I see? What will they be able to produce for me? Then, once you have a clear idea of what you want and what it will look like, you analyze that and match it with activities. You can’t put the cart before the horse. Lesson’s flow so smoothly when you know what you’re aiming for, not just how to shoot.
As I move out of my apartment back home for the next 3 months (3 months till I get married aaahhhh!!!), I’m excited more than I am sad. The only explanation for that (since I’m a very sentimental person and changes are hard for me) is that I feel well prepared. Do I know what school I’m going to work at yet? No, though I’ve given my resume to a lot of people already and had a couple phone calls. Do I know how my first program is going to go? No. Do I know how I’m going to run an after school choir when I’m not a vocalist myself? No. But I know that I will be able to adjust and learn as I go. I know that when I make mistakes, they don’t destroy me anymore, they just make me that much better the next time. I know that after I graduate Saturday, I’ll be a qualified teacher. Experienced and mistake-free? Heck no! But qualified. And I’m so excited to start my music-teacher journey!