Have you had the privilege of working with a student teacher in your teaching career yet?
Being a student teacher is both exciting and terrifying. It’s something that most of us have had to do before becoming full-fledged teachers.
However, being a student teacher isn’t always a fun-filled learning experience; for some fledgling teachers, it can be a miserable and trying time.
What’s the difference?
Unfortunately, most of the time, the difference is the lead teacher. As a lead teacher, you want to be an inspiration and mentor when working with a student teacher. You want to be someone who can help them as much as possible. What you don’t want to do is be someone they fear or are intimidated by – the experience is intimidating enough.
This blog post will share helpful tips for you to follow when working with a student teacher so that you both can have an inspirational experience.
Tips For Working With a Student Teacher
Here are some helpful tips you can use when you get the opportunity to work with a student teacher. These straightforward strategies aim to create a positive and beneficial experience for both of you, helping you be a motivating and encouraging model and assisting the student teacher during this crucial period in their professional development.
Tip #1: Provide Honest and Specific Feedback
All teachers, whether new or veteran, strive to improve, and the two key components for improving are feedback and self-reflection.
Feedback comes from students, evaluations, and tips from your principal. Self-reflection is when you give yourself feedback and reflect on the lessons that worked and those that didn’t.
Student teachers aren’t yet at the self-reflection phase, so your guidance when working with a student teacher will help them look at their teaching to see where they can improve. However, you must give honest and specific feedback.
Feedback is not helpful when it’s broad or vague – how will the student teacher know what they need to work on? Instead, pinpoint specific things the teacher does in the lessons that they can improve.
Take this example: If your administrator told you that you needed to “engage with students more,” and that was it, how would that be helpful? Especially if you thought you were already engaging with your students and that they enjoyed the lessons.
When working with a student teacher, we need to give feedback on what works specifically and how they can improve on things they are already doing.
Tip #2: Be a Cheerleader
You might work with many student teachers throughout your teaching career and must encourage each one. Be kind, welcoming, and encouraging when they come into the classroom. Be their number-one fan!
When your student teacher starts teaching lessons independently, you need to be the person they can trust and come to for encouragement. Help make their experience fun and exciting! Hype them up and let them know you’re on their side.
Student teaching can be very stressful, and they want you to be proud of them, so show them when working with a student teacher!
Tip #3: Use Your Own Teaching Experience
Can you remember what helped you the most when you were in the days of your student teaching?
I remember waking up early to grab the bus to be at the high school where I did my practicum to follow the hours of my associate teacher. If I remember correctly, she liked to start work between 7 am and 7:30 am. Those were some cold Ottawa winter mornings!
No matter when your own experience happened – maybe it was last semester, or perhaps it was 15 years ago – what about your student teaching experience made you want to continue on your journey to being a teacher? What did you wish your lead teacher would have helped you with?
Make sure that you reflect on your own experiences and use what worked and nix what didn’t when working with a student teacher. Do all of the things you wish you had during your own experience. Perhaps it was a pep talk before you taught lessons, support and examples with lesson plans, help with classroom management, etc.
The experience will have been different for everyone, but try to do the things that will help that individual teacher.
Tip #4: Share Your Resources
You probably know this already, but teachers accumulate a lot of resources. But when starting as a teacher, you typically have nothing – which is not only tricky, but it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to begin to obtain resources.
If you have resources that have helped you out over the years and are shareable, share them with your student teacher. You will be helping them out immensely! Show them where you find your resources (such as Teachers Pay Teachers), or buy them a book that helped you the most.
When working with a student teacher, you should understand that they may not know what they need, so helping them with a starting point will be highly beneficial.
Tip #5: Model Behaviour You Believe In
What does an excellent teacher look like?
Teacher behaviour looks different for everyone, but an excellent teacher is typically energetic, enthusiastic, encouraging, and engaging.
Yes, we all have days when we just don’t feel like being all those things. Teachers get exhausted, too, and some days, it can be hard to muster up the energy to even fake enthusiasm. However, when working with a student teacher, you must model the behaviour you want them to see.
Show them how to set up a markbook or daybook/teacher planner, and walk them through the various processes you do each day. They need to see firsthand how you deal with difficult situations and the daily tasks that come with teaching.
Don’t try to be something you’re not – always be yourself – but push through those low-energy days. Your student teacher will have days like that, too, and they need to see that everyone experiences those days.
Show your student teacher ideas of activities students can work on during one of these days and show them online resources students can utilize to stay engaged. Some resources could include:
- Podcasts on engaging and high-interest topics or non-fiction articles that might spark classroom discussion
- Having students work on an assignment that builds their creativity and encourages critical skills
- Consider allowing students to choose their seating arrangements or use alternative seating options
- Games can be a great way to energize the class without requiring excessive effort from the teacher
- Find some inspirational TED Talks for students to listen to
- Facilitate a discussion-based lesson where students can take the lead in expressing their thoughts and ideas
- Try using a digital escape room to review concepts already learned in class or to explore a season or holiday
- Plan group activities or projects that encourage students to collaborate and work together
- Have students engage in reflective journaling or creative writing about the lesson or a specific topic
Not only is it essential for your student teacher to see that these days happen, but how you handle those days makes you a fantastic teacher.
Tip #6: Step Back and Let Them Fly
When working with a student teacher, there will come a time during their experience with you when they will do the lesson plans and teach independently. There will be stumbles, but knowing you are there to encourage them will keep them going.
Think of teaching a child how to write a bike without training wheels. Yes, you’re there to guide and help them along the way, but eventually, you have to back away slowly and phase yourself out to let them do it themselves. Finally, they’ll do it alone and not even realize it happened!
Now, think of you doing all the teaching and lesson planning in the classroom, then stepping aside and saying, “Okay, your turn!” to your student teacher. How overwhelming and scary! Ease the overwhelm and fright by backing away, slowly easing them into the driver’s seat.
This is a process, but that’s okay – this way, they won’t feel like they’re being kicked out of the nest, hurtling toward the ground. Be their guide, but also – eventually – let them go.
Teaching can be stressful and overwhelming sometimes, but when working with a student teacher, you must show them the joy and why we do what we do. They need to know that it won’t always be exciting – there will be challenging and dark days to get through – but teach them how to handle those days and how to remember the “why” when times get difficult.