Student Teaching: Top 5 Things Learned

300 hours, 50 days, and 12 full weeks later, I have completed my Student Teaching experience.

Woooo!!!  (This was the first image that came up when I Googled

Woooo!!! (This was the first image that came up when I Googled “celebration,” by the way.)

It’s time to celebrate!  Break out the brooms and dustpans and cardboard boxes!

“Wait, what?”

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:


  1. 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.image
  2. 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…juggling-900x600
  3. 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.

    Beg, borrow and steal.

    Beg, borrow and steal.

  4. 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.

    Yes, the journey is more important than the destination.  But if you don't have a destination in mind, are you even on a journey at all?

    Yes, the journey is more important than the destination. But if you don’t have a destination in mind, are you even on a journey at all?

  5. 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!


Sincerely yours,

Torrence Nightingale


My first full week of student teaching… almost.

Well, I was going to post this at the end of my first full week of student teaching two weeks ago, but unfortunately, the weather had other plans.  Let’s take stock, shall we?

I started student teaching on February 11th, a Wednesday.  The following Monday, we had an early-release day for snow, and didn’t return to school again until Friday, when we had a two-hour delay.  Then, the next week, I got a full Monday, but again we were cancelled Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and had a two-hour delay on Friday.  So this week was supposed to finally be my first full week, right?  Wrong again!  Last night the temperature dropped and there was freezing rain, so again we had a two-hour delay today.  Gracious!


No thanks, Oprah. I mean, the first time it was fun, but now it’s just old…

Oh well.  At least I did get to meet my Tuesday classes this week finally!  Three weeks at the school and I had not even been formally introduced to them haha.  I have been doing morning hall-duty greeting students and afternoon carpool duty sending them home with my Cooperating Teacher (CT) though, so I had at least laid eyes on most of them and they’d seen me around.  Still, it is crazy how much the weather has thrown a wrench into things.

Let me explain why missing so many days is so bad for me and my CT.  We teach elementary school music. Due to the nature of elementary schools, “enhancement” classes like ours only see each class one time a week.  For instance, our schedule has kindergarten classes coming from 10:10am – 10:55am every day.  So each day during that time we have a different kindergarten class.  Thus we see all 615 students in the entire school within a week, which is great, but at the same time, if we miss a day for snow, it puts whatever classes were supposed to come on that day a week behind all the others.

So, because two weeks in a row we’ve missed Tuesday-Thursday, and we’ve had two-hour delays on Friday’s for three weeks in a row, there are quite a few classes that are incredibly behind, and no time to really catch them up.  My CT has a couple fifth grade classes who she has only seen three times since they came back from Christmas break in January, because not only has there been snow but the fifth graders have had awards assemblies and trips and other activities that took away from their enhancement time.

Anyway, I digress.  Long story short (too late, I know), this past week has been a lot of ups and downs for me.  Taking stock now at the end of the week, I would say that the ups have outnumbered the downs, but only because there are a lot of small ones that oppose the few very heavy downs.

UP!  I love children.  I loved my practicum experience last semester with middle schoolers; they’re spunky and smart and hilarious, but even this early on I can tell that I was right when I chose to teach elementary school music for student teaching and as my future career.  The students are so eager and full of energy and creativity!  There is so much potential pent up in their little bodies sometimes I wonder how they contain it all.

Me:  "Gabe, what do you want to be when you grow up?"  Gabe:  "A ninja-astronaut.  With two swords!"

Me: “Gabe, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Gabe: “A ninja-astronaut. With two swords!”

DOWN.  Enhancement teachers in my area are severely under-appreciated.  There is little to no support from parents, other teachers, and administration, and don’t even mention the county.  This is not a fact that I was unaware of before I started this experience, but seeing it– experiencing it– first hand has been a bit like a cold bucket of water to the face.  This is what I want to do with my life, it is my passion, and I am seeing that most likely, I am going to work very hard to do something that a lot of people will never see, and even more will not think is important.

UP!  My CT is amazing!  Despite substantial obstacles, she has developed some incredible instructional techniques and her students are all the evidence anyone could need of her talent.  I am beyond grateful to have someone to work with who I know can teach me as much as she can, and I’m busy every day lapping up any advice she can give me and scribbling down all the things she does to run her classroom.

DOWN.  Time.  Time is such a downer.  There just isn’t enough of it!  Each class is only 45 minutes, 5-10 of which is spent just doing regular things such as taking roll, setting up materials, and explaining activities.  “Why don’t you just leave things set up?”  You may ask.  Well, that’s simply impossible when you see a class from each grade level and sometimes EC (special needs) classes all in one day!  Each class is doing a different activity because they are on different levels, different lessons.  We only get one break between classes, which is an hour lunch exactly in the middle.  With three classes back to back to back, it’s hard to do much preparation, and yet it’s not a good idea to try and prepare for your third class first thing in the morning.  It’s an interesting conundrum.

On time

Time flies.

UP!  I get to see all the students.  This may seem like it would be a down to some of you, but I will never consider it one.  I love that I get to meet every student in the school, regardless of what their preferences are or what their grades are or whether or not they have money for an instrument.  It has already been a great learning experience and I’ve barely even taught anything yet.  I see students who’s parents buy them their own recorder and they practice every day and will come to any extra-curricular you ask them to.  I see students who would do all those things but financially cannot.  I see students who come to school every day happy and smiling even though their clothes are torn and dirty and their shoes don’t fit.  I see students who come to school every day crying but leave happy because at school they have friends, they get to learn, and they have fun.  It gives me a chance to see these little snapshots of so many lives.  I get the opportunity to do my best to touch 615 children in a positive way every week!  It’s a little intimidating, but if I can succeed, I know that everything else I go through will be worth it.


We’ve been learning the song Follow the Drinking Gourd with third graders. It’s been a great experience discussing slavery and how people use music to communicate.

UP!  I am having so much fun and getting so many awesome ideas!!!  Even with the weather interruptions, I have been able to learn a lot, and I know I’ll learn even more as I continue on!  This week I taught all 5 kindergarten classes.  I did a lesson on tempo and keeping a steady beat.  It went all right, but there are definitely areas I need to improve on.  I don’t even care though; even that is an up to me!  I have something to work for, something to strive to.  I’m going to teach Kindergarten next week as well, so I’ll see those classes for a second time.  If I can make sure that I do a better job next week than this one, then I will consider it a success.

So, onward!  Off I go, into the great blue yonder.  Many challenges lie ahead, but I am confident this will be a good experience as long as I keep my head up.  I love my CT.  I love my school (side note– this school has solidified my previous preference for more rural/poorer schools.  It’s a Title I school, which in North Carolina means we have a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, and some people say that teaching at poorer schools is worse, but I disagree.  These kids are so happy to be at school!  Even the ones who misbehave, you often realize that they would rather have bad attention than the complete lack of attention they receive at home.)  I am ready to fight my way through and make some really dumb mistakes and try to become a better teacher.  I’ll check in from time to time and let you know how things are going!

Hopefully yours,