Start Student Teaching Successfully!

  • Realize that you are not alone. Keep in close contact with your classmates who are also student teaching. Share stories about what is working well and what may be frustrating you. By exchanging your successes, you will be adding to your own "bank" of good ideas. By listening to others' frustrations, you will gain the wisdom on how to avoid creating such situations in your own classrooms. And, by sharing your frustrations, you will gain advice from someone removed from the situation. Join a social networking site targeted toward teachers to expand your contacts. Try NCTM's Facebook or Twitter, to start.

    Initiate a conversation with your cooperating teacher before your assignment, if possible, about your learning preferences and expectations. Offer to join to help decorate the room for a new semester! Consider showcasing mathematical artwork of your students, such as tessellations, or post some problems for students to think about. It will be helpful to exchange expectations in advance, so that you can both be sensitive to your differences. On the other hand, be yourself! Don't conform to who you think your supervising teacher wants you to be; rather, take advantage of the support that he or she has to offer as you mature into your own teacher.

    Prepare yourself by reading instructional magazines and offering lesson suggestions to your supervising teacher, even before you start doing the teaching yourself. This shows that you are not only engaged in observation, but are also looking for ways to engage the students. It demonstrates that you are advocating for the students' learning by going above and beyond the requirements. For ideas, check out NCTM Illuminations lessons and activities.

    Set up an observation schedule early on. Avoid a situation where the supervising teacher takes advantage of you being there and leaves the room frequently. Make it clear that you value his or her constructive criticism, and that a lot of your learning depends on these conversations and reflections in addition to the teaching practice itself. Review the tips on reflection and an example specific to your grade.

    Ask to rotate around the room and work with students as they complete assignments or work through problems in class as soon as you are comfortable, to help transition from observation to teaching. You will gain students' trust and reduce the anxiety of solo teaching the entire class when the time comes.

    Take care of yourself! Make sure that you are getting enough rest, eating well, and exercising. Wash your hands more often, and don't forget your vitamins. You will be subjected to more illness in the classroom because you will be in contact with more people than you are accustomed to. Build up your immunity before the stresses of student teaching have a chance to bring it down!

    Ask questions to get to know exactly what you will do when students misbehave. Doing nothing and trying to "be cool" will gain less respect than if you set up an environment with clearly defined rules and consequences. Try to be consistent with other teachers' rules. Tweak them as necessary as you gain experience of your own.

    Teacher and students in a classroom

    Be early, not on time. Punctuality is very important as a student-teacher, and even more as a supervising teacher. Show your cooperating teacher that you are ready for your own classroom by arriving early to get organized and greet the students as they enter. If you arrive right on time, you are setting a bad example to the students, and will also be putting your supervising teacher in an awkward situation- wondering if you will be there and be prepared.

    Prepare a letter to introduce yourself to your students and parents in advance, if possible. Include your zeal and personal motivation for teaching, a few of your interests, and your educational background and goals for your student teaching experience. Limit it to the front of a page. Allow your supervising teacher to edit the letter before mailing it out. Contacting parents before they have a reason to contact you is critical to ensure a constructive relationship.

    Always err on the side of dressing too formally. Dressing too casually is unacceptable in the professional world, and you are now in it! Embrace your newest opportunity by dressing in business casual wear. Especially for younger teachers, over-dressing may help set you apart and gain you respect from your students and colleagues. It is possible to be professional, comfortable and stylish at the same time.

    Get to know the office and custodial staff. If there is something that you need outside of the classroom, these will be the ones you are running to! Stop by and say "Good morning" on your way in. They will alert you of any happenings that day, and you will gain extra support that can come in handy some days.

    Share your interests and capitalize in the classroom by showing off your talents! If you are an artist, select a project where your students will be creating mathematical works of art. If you have a craft hobby, create a mathematical construction with your class. If you are a football player, have a discussion about the math and physics in your sport. Students will be more receptive to your teaching as you build relationships by sharing experiences and interests – ultimately, allowing students to get to know you. They will be more apt to share in class dialogue if they feel comfortable talking and don't feel like you are judging their responses all the time.

    Invite the principal to watch a lesson that you are excited about. It would be great to have your supervising teacher AND your principal's recommendation upon completion of student teaching; and inviting the principal not only shows your confidence, but also gives him or her something to talk about in your recommendation.

    Consider doing your first professional development activity with your supervising teacher. Besides attending those scheduled by your school or district, consider going to an NCTM conference to attend the New Teacher Strand.

    Be extremely careful when talking about students and teachers. You never know other people's relationships to the students that you are working with. It's great to exchange stories about your first semester in the classroom, but be careful not to say anything negative. Even when talking about your experiences with your college professors, it's still a good idea to leave the students' names out of your conversation. Don't join in the gossip in the lounge, either. Although you may feel like it helps you bond with some teachers, you will be burning bridges with others. You will be respected by all if you just stay out of it.

    Send thank you letters to your supervising teacher, your principal, and anyone else that had an impact on your learning experience. It is important to continue the relationships as you continue through your teaching career. Having someone to ask a quick content or pedagogical question to and to share the stresses and successes of teaching is important. Friends in other businesses or industries will not value these as your "math teacher" friends will, so make the effort to keep them.

    Smile! This makes more of a difference than you can imagine. Smiles are contagious. Others will react to you in a more positive way if you appear friendly and approachable! This includes your students, other teachers, office staff, and even the principal.

    For more reading on being a successful beginning teacher, check out the Empowering the Beginning Teacher series or the Mathematics for Every Student publications for your gradeband: Elementary, Middle School, and High School.