Student teaching is an inevitable part of preparing for life as a teacher at the elementary through secondary school level. Although many bachelor’s degree programs in education that lead to a teaching certification now include some form of classroom practicum or other experience earlier on in an undergraduate education, they typically end with a semester as a student teacher. Your student teaching experience allows you the opportunity to discover what it is really like to engage with students in the classroom day after day while also having the guidance of a cooperating teacher to rely on as you begin planning lessons and managing the classroom. Student teaching is usually full-time over the course of the semester and includes grading and planning outside of school hours as needed as well as classroom time and in-service days.
Planning and Carrying Out Lessons
Effective teachers don’t just get up in front of the class and improvise an entire lesson with no prior planning. It takes a good deal of work and reflection to develop lesson plans and materials that will resonate with students. As a student teacher, you won’t simply implement someone else’s lesson plans. You will create your own, starting with identifying clear and measurable instructional goals. These goals must fit into the curriculum standards appropriately, but the ways in which you choose to cover the required content doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter.
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Often, student teachers gain greater classroom responsibilities over the course of the semester. At first, it may be your cooperating teacher who selects these goals. Your cooperating teacher may share with you existing lesson plans for initial teaching attempts and co-teaching lessons. You may submit written lesson plans to your cooperating teacher for review prior to implementing them in class. This can change over time as you gain the practical skills and confidence needed to handle more responsibilities independently and as your cooperating teacher develops trust in your abilities and judgment.
Planning lessons encompasses far more than writing down what you intend to talk about with your class. It includes everything from identifying resources, like readings and other materials, that you can use in the lesson to creating your own unique materials. It means leading the lesson in the classroom – and answering questions or addressing students’ problems as they arise.
As a student teacher, you may be responsible for coming up with assessments in the form of worksheets, papers, quizzes and other assignments that evaluate students’ understanding of the material. You will grade assignments, during free periods or outside of school hours.
Managing the Classroom
Even the best of plans may not work exactly as you intended 100 percent of the time. Remember, the children you are teaching in the classroom are individuals who may have good days and bad days. Much of the value of a student teaching experience comes from having the opportunity to apply the classroom management strategies you learned in your own classes to the real-world school environment. Whether students are poorly behaved and disruptive or simply overly excited, it’s the instructor’s job to wrangle their attention enough to cover the course material, or, if need be, to shift the lesson in a way that will better command their interest.
In addition to getting to know the classroom environment in general, student teachers learn how to educate a diverse population of students with different strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Working With Your Cooperating Teacher
Throughout your student teaching experience, you will work with a cooperating teacher. Often, this teacher has several years of experience as well as an eagerness to help new educators. Whether you’re observing your cooperating teacher in action to learn from him or her, seeking feedback on your lesson ideas, teaching in tandem or handling lessons on your own, you should think of your cooperating teacher as a resource. Although no two teachers will choose to handle the same subject matter in precisely the same ways all of the time, you will often find that working with your cooperating teacher helps you explore new ideas that you haven’t heard of or thought of before.
At the end of the semester, your student teaching performance will be evaluated. Often, this evaluation takes the form of a portfolio and assessment that may include feedback from your cooperating teacher, along with a coach or advisor from your college.