Student Teaching Survival Guide

Written by Jonathon Weiss

Tips for New Student Teachers

No one becomes an amazing teacher the moment they step into a classroom; it takes years of practice and that journey starts with your student teaching experience. To help all of you new student teachers who are anxious about this big step, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks, all paired with explanations, for how to optimize and improve your classroom, your lessons, and yourself. All of these are backed up by firsthand teacher experience and research by teachers.

These tips are split into three categories: Teaching in the Classroom, Preparing your Lessons, and Self-Reflection. Feel free to jump ahead in this article to the category that best applies to you!

Student Teaching Tips for the Classroom

Some of the biggest fears for student teachers are how to react to a class of rowdy kids, how to handle disciplinary issues, how to set up effective and healthy classroom boundaries, and how to deal with uncooperative technology. Below, we'll take a look at how to deal with those practical struggles that every student teacher endures.

Give Students Jobs

Handling a classroom of students can be orders of magnitude more difficult than handling a classroom of adults mimicking the behavior of students. One of the most effective methods of doing this is to give your students jobs in class. These jobs can range from helping you manage the class library to leading a table group or even just taking out the recycling. If you do this, remember to be clear about the expectations of the job and allow students to rotate what jobs they're doing.

Remember That Theory is Different from Practice

During your teaching certification program, you'll have read countless theories on classroom management in class. You're likely to have presented a few of them to a group of your peers and been tested on them ad nauseam. Remember, though, that, no matter how many theories you know, the situation on the ground is likely to render those theories powerless. Knowing and accepting this going in can cut down on your frustration significantly.

Don't Ignore Relationships

Relationships go a long way in the classroom. It may be tempting to skip the ''Get to Know You'' icebreakers. Don't. Establishing a good relationship with your students and sharing your life story with them is crucial to good classroom management. Don't let yourself get baited into focusing too much on schoolwork in the early weeks of a semester. Get to know the students and you'll be rewarded for it.

By the same token, talk to fellow teachers, your principal, and your support staff, and ask them how they recommend implementing your theories. They'll offer critical and helpful insights into your student population and help you develop the best practice you can.

Communicate Expectations

Communicate your expectations of conduct and preparation to the class and set clear repercussions. Make sure students understand the consequences of what they are doing and, more importantly, understand what is expected of them. You likely learned all this as a student, but it is easy as a student teacher to forget to communicate your expectations in the first weeks of a semester. It is never too late to set up clear expectations for your students. To optimize this process, we recommend including the students in the process. Have clear rules, but give the students input as well. Then make sure to hang up your rules in the classroom and reference them often. Ideal rules establish what students need to bring every day, what signal you will use to quiet them down, regulations around missed or late work, and expectations about participation.

Create a Safe Space

If you can make your students feel comfortable and safe to speak their minds in your classroom (when it's appropriate, of course), then you have an easier class to manage. Methods for achieving this include making time for student feedback, offering explanations for why rules are in place and why students have to learn what they are learning, and working with support staff to develop healthy interactions with students prone to outbursts and acting up. Be careful, though, to set distinct boundaries to prevent a safe space for student exploration from becoming an uncontrolled mess. The boundaries you set will vary based on class and year, but practicing this early on as a student-teacher will make you a much stronger teacher and make your classes much easier to manage.

Use Support Staff

There's no sugar-coating it: it's hard to be a student teacher. Ask your more experienced peers and principal for advice and use the resources provided by your school. Out of pride or shyness, many aspiring teachers try to go it alone. Asking for help is not a weakness, it's a strength. Don't be afraid to run lesson plans by veteran teachers or ask for advice managing a classroom. They've all been in your shoes before and they'll understand.

Student Teaching Tips on Preparing Your Lessons

Our tips on preparing your lessons are concerned about everything that happens outside of class. How do you build lessons that you can continue to use and modify for years to come? How to incorporate rigid standards? How can you learn to prioritize important pieces of information when it comes to shortened class periods? Read on when you're ready to optimize your planning periods.

Make and Use Answer Keys

Most teachers agree: answer keys will save your life. It doesn't matter how small or large the assignment is, having an answer key will help. It lets you zone out when you're checking answers, it lets you easily reuse materials in subsequent years, and it can even let you offload some grading assignments onto willing relatives, partners, friends, or children without needing to explain much. Making an answer key does not take much time and it is a great way of double-checking your work before giving it to students. Simply take one copy of your assignment, answer it to your standards, and store it. With one easy step, you've double-checked your assignment for errors while generating an immensely useful document.

Have a Back-Up Website for Last Minute Assignments

Every teacher forgets to make an assignment in time. Often this is even more true for student teachers who are entering the classroom without years of accumulated lessons and plans. Have a trusted lesson website in your back pocket for emergencies. Trading a few dollars for peace of mind and an assignment you can repeat in future years is a worthy trade-off.

Prioritize

You cannot do everything. Always be prioritizing, even when you're at home and grading. Think about what needs to be done versus what you'd like to be done and focus on that. As a student teacher, you also deserve this reminder: you should also be prioritizing yourself. If you don't set aside time for yourself or plan to take time on weekends or evenings away from your schoolwork, then you will not be capable of handling a student-teacher workload. Give yourself grace and time.

Establish Consistent Feedback Times

When planning out your lessons, consider setting aside some time every week for students to give feedback on the classroom, the lessons, or their school experience. The more routine this is, the better. Give them a small sheet to fill out with their feedback to turn in anonymously. Online this can be simply done with a Google Form. Even if they rarely utilize this to deliver feedback, having this as an option will help smooth out problems before they grow. Students who know they always have a chance each week (or every other week) to be heard by their teacher will be more ready to engage with the content and with the student-teacher. You'll also be able to head off problems more easily.

Be Flexible

When planning your lessons, be flexible. You do not, and cannot, know what will happen when you walk into that classroom to teach your lesson. Allow room in your plans to respond to student questions, to handle unruly behavior, or to deal with whatever other strange circumstance might disrupt your daily lesson. To do this, we recommend leaving 5-8 minutes unaccounted for in your lesson plans. This time can be used flexibly to support any piece of the lesson that has fallen behind.

Take a Day for Long-Range Planning

A few school districts build into the schedules of their teachers a day for long-range planning: teachers assess where their students are at, where they need to be and work backward to try to ascertain what you need to teach and when. This is not something that can be done at the start of the school year; you need active data from your students to make this effective. Different teachers take their long-range planning at different times. Some do it weekly, some do it monthly, and others do it quarterly. Pick the time that works best for you. Doing this sort of long-range planning can help stabilize and reorient your daily lessons. If you ever feel that you're riding by the seat of your pants from lesson to lesson and day to day, take a day to do long-range planning.

Student Teaching Tips on Self-Reflection

Self-Reflection is all about improving yourself and your classroom. Nobody gets it right the first time, and it can be frustrating to receive feedback and feel that you don't know what to do with it. The tips in this section handle ways of doing this, methods for surviving the dreaded observation, dealing with parents and the complex relationships that stem from that, and more.

Consistency and Imposter Syndrome

There's an old saying that goes, "anything worth doing is worth doing well," but there's an even more appropriate saying for student teachers: "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." The intent of this quote is to curb perfectionist behavior and imposter syndrome. Anything you do as a student teacher is worth doing, and therefore is worth doing poorly. Embrace failure and understand that it may very well be your best teacher.

This doesn't mean you don't give your best effort; it means that effort and consistency will help you improve more than being perfect. If an assignment doesn't feel amazing, do it anyway! Use the experience as a chance to improve the assignment. We're only human, and it is okay to be behind on work. When taking and applying feedback, remember that you don't need to improve all at once. Take it step-by-step, even if those steps are baby steps.

Fluff Lessons

One of the most important steps in your growth as a student-teacher is learning how to look back on your lesson plans and evaluate what lessons were teaching your students and which were simply entertaining them. A good balance is important, but that shouldn't stop you from asking hard questions like, 'How crucial is watching the film version of this book to their learning the book? Am I improving my students' education with this?' This line of questioning is difficult but rewarding.

Record Yourself Teaching

It's awful, we know. No one wants to sit down and watch themselves teaching. But, as a student teacher, you will likely be required to record yourself anyway, so use these forced recordings to practice watching yourself teach and see yourself from your student's eyes. Notice your posture. How do you move around the room? How is your wait time? Where are there lulls in the lesson? Professional athletes watch game footage all the time to evaluate their decision-making and try to find ways to improve. The same goes for teaching. Assess the decisions you make in the heat of the moment and try to find 'checks' to help you stay on top of those. Are you moving around too much? Put a piece of tape on the ground and use that as an anchor point. Are you asking questions too quickly? Mentally count in your head to five before following up on a question. Watching yourself teach may be embarrassing, but it will make you a better teacher.

Don't Place Blame

Bad days happen as a teacher. They're inevitable. A good self-reflective skill to develop is this: when those days happen, you don't rush to blame anyone for why they happened, not even yourself. No matter what happened, consider what could have gone differently in the situation and whether or not your decisions could have changed what happened for better or for worse. Most of the time, your decisions wouldn't have mattered because your student was having a difficult day because of home life or other reasons. But it is critical to evaluate your decisions with an open mind. If you don't, especially as a student teacher, you run the risk of developing poor habits that are detrimental to both you and your student's growth.

Never Stop Learning

This is an easy tip to hear as a student teacher. You'll be learning new things about the classroom and your students every single day. You'll be learning how to improve, and then improving, every single week. It's much, much harder to do once you've started to settle into a routine. The key is to strike a balance in the middle. Have your routine to help you through the grind of days and weeks, but push yourself during mandatory training, classes, and anything else. Accept that you have more to learn, and you'll learn more than you know.

FAQ

What is Student Teaching Like?

Student teaching is traditionally a 12- to 16-week experience where you are inserted into a classroom and, gradually, the duties you have within that classroom are escalated. Contrary to popular belief, this is a full-time commitment. It is very difficult to maintain other jobs or responsibilities during a student-teaching position.

Is There a Dress Code?

Technically, this answer varies upon the program or location. However, it is safe to say that there will be a dress code during your student teaching. You are not only representing the school you are working with, you are representing the university you are doing your student teaching through. Both institutions are invested in you presenting yourself respectfully and professionally.

Will I Be Paid for Student Teaching?

Student teaching is considered a part of your education, so no. You are not paid for student teaching. In fact, you will likely have to pay some light tuition while student teaching. Student teachers are, however, amazing candidates for private tutoring or any other one-on-one education. It is highly recommended to find light hours at a tutoring institution if you want to continue to make money during your student teaching.

Can I Be Hired Where I Student-Taught?

It is common for student teachers to be hired where they taught, so long as positions are available. You have experience with the population, you've already worked with the teachers at the school, and they know you. For this reason, it is important to be kind and gracious while in your student teaching to leave a good impression on your colleagues.

And, while your odds are good of being hired at a school where you student taught, it is NOT a guarantee. Please, after you finish student teaching, apply to multiple schools to best improve your odds of being hired.

Where Do I Put Student Teaching on My Resume?

You should add your student teaching to your resume. It gives your employers context for where you have worked and they may even know people at your old school they can ring up when looking over your resume to ask about you. We recommend including this section under Relevant Experience, which is already a helpful section for teachers to include on their resume.

How Should I Prepare for Student Teaching?

Don't try to prepare lessons in advance for student teaching unless specifically told to, as you'll be working with the teachers at your school to build lessons and units before eventually building your own. You'll want the experience and advice of your mentor teacher before writing your own lessons.

What you should do to prepare, however, is make sure that you have food plans (you'll come home exhausted and have little energy to cook) and that you obtain and turn in the numerous background clearances you'll need to submit before teaching in a classroom. Consult with your university or school district to determine exactly where to go to get/submit these documents. Make sure that you have transport to your placement school and that you have the full support of friends and family. Lastly, read as many tips about being a great teacher as you can to get multiple perspectives!

Expert Answers to Common Questions about student teachers

  • How can prospective teachers make the most out of their student teaching experiences?
  • What advice do you have for prospective teachers going through the teacher certification process?
  • What guidance can you give prospective teachers on determining what age group, subject, and type of school would be a fit for them?
  • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

You can read their biographies and answers below:

  • Expert contributor image

    Melissa Leipold, Ed.D

    Professor of Education, Iona University

    Malissa A. Scheuring Leipold, Ed.D. is a full professor of education at Iona University, where she teaches courses in introductory general and special education and oversees the educational leadership program. She has also served as a New York State teacher certification officer for the university for multiple years. Her scholarship focuses on issues related to education policy, administration, leadership, and organizational behavior. She is a published educational foundations textbook author and childrens book author.

    • How can prospective teachers make the most out of their student teaching experiences?

      Prospective classroom teachers can make the most out of their student teaching experiences by always keeping an open and consistent line of communication with their student teaching supervisors and cooperating teachers. This not only exhibits professionalism, but is a source of constant support and does not leave room for uncertainly regarding expectations.

    • What advice do you have for prospective teachers going through the teacher certification process?

      The teacher certification process can be an arduous one, mainly because there are so many facets and requirements which must be met along the way. Having an effective academic advisor at the college or university level is key as they guide prospective teachers through the course requirements and can recommend when it is best to take the teacher certification exams required for the specific state in which they are seeking certification. In addition, there are workshops which must be fulfilled along the way, which are a critical piece in the process as a college or university cannot endorse any teacher certification application without evidence of their completion. There are numerous resources available online which may assist prospective teachers along the way, but there is no substitute for good advisement and guidance provided by higher education academic advisors and teacher certification officers.

    • What guidance can you give prospective teachers on determining what age group, subject, and type of school would be a fit for them?

      It is often difficult to determine what age group, subject, and type of school a future teacher would prefer until they actually experience the environment firsthand. We frequently go into our education studies thinking that we will enjoy teaching the grade level in which we enjoyed being a student ourselves, but teaching is a completely different perspective. I encourage aspiring teachers to be open to any grade level in the very beginning and through field experiences in PK-12 schools they will have the opportunity to discover which age group they enjoy the most, whether early childhood, childhood or adolescent, and what school environment fits their needs and desires best. In addition, I advise them to be open to any potential teaching position interview opportunity since it is often not until one is in the walls of the school that you know you belong. As far as subject area, I encourage prospective teachers to pursue the subject they like the best and are most passionate about, whether they sometimes struggle with the material or not. It is this past struggle in the specific subject area that may lead to more effective teaching methods since they may recall what worked for them. It is this passion which has the potential to be contagious in the classroom and they may turn students on to a subject which may change the trajectory of their lives.

    • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

      One piece of advice I wish I had when I was studying and working to become a teacher is that it is about the bigger picture of changing one child's life at a time. I understand that there are concrete skills and knowledge that must be obtained to become a teacher of children, however, all too often the paperwork becomes the focus and not the greater meaning of being a teacher. If there was more of a focus on the amazing role a teacher plays, perhaps educators would be provided more stamina to get through the incredible daily demands of the profession.

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