What My Student Teacher Taught Me

So that was a challenge.

I just completed 7 weeks with a student teacher, a 23-year-old at a private college who will graduate next month with certification in Middle Level English and ESOL K-12.  This was my first time hosting a student teacher.

For the most part, I did not enjoy it.

She was a kind, gentle person, but lacked the energy and enthusiasm – and doggone dogged determination – that I now view as a requirement for teaching the kids that I work with.

Do I have very high standards?  Absolutely.  I’m a bit of a workaholic, and I’ve been guilty of expecting superhuman work ethic in others, too.  So I need to vent and disclose my disappointment (and maybe put myself in check), but I also need to capture some of the lessons I’ve learned – or re-learned – about teaching ELLs in the past seven weeks.  Because I have learned from the cooperating teacher experience, both about myself and this job of mine.

1. As an introvert, I need down time.  Quiet moments between student groups, quiet walks to my car as I travel between buildings, quiet at lunch or prep (those fleeting few moments) – I need these in order to be effective and sane.  And when I’m sharing a space, and sharing my thoughts, and sharing my plans, and someone else is sharing what’s going on in their Facebook feed, I want to lay my head down on my desk.  Or curse.  But I learned to smile and excuse myself.  And to go hide in the artroom closet.

2. Teaching K-5 ELLs is harder than it may seem.  Games!  Songs! Coloring pages!  I think my student teacher came into the experience reading how “low” my students are, and planning for simple activities to meet them at their levels and keep a pleasant rapport.  Games, songs, and worksheets can be effective tools – I do use them regularly – but they are tools, not lesson plans.  The big idea I’ve relearned: Teachers of ELLs need to balance scaffolding strategies and rigor.  Take an important concept or skill and bring it to the students’ level, but push them forward.  Always move them forward.  It’s okay to be demanding.  My students want to be engaged.

3.  Please, please, student teachers: Create some of your own lessons.  When I started out, I did reinvent the wheel on a regular basis, and I did not sleep, and I was sometimes devastated when a lesson I designed went poorly.  But I also learned the power of the creative process in teaching – the art of finding just the right text, or a meaningful real-world connection, or a link between content and vocabulary and thinking skills.  That certainly comes with time, but it was frustrating for me to see my student teacher seem to crowd-source her lessons: Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, crappy worksheets from Asian EFL schools.  She started out writing her own song about the five senses for our Kindergarten group, and recording herself singing and playing piano.  Cool!  But the lesson didn’t go very well (see above re: enthusiasm).  I wish she had reflected and then revamped the lesson.  I gave her specific feedback and suggestions.  But she went to Google instead.  I love me some TpT as much as the next elementary teacher, but again, these downloads are tools, not lessons.

4. We need to start with the why behind learning.  Motivation: It’s the name of the instructional game.  And each time my student teacher’s lessons began with “Okay, put your name on this paper. We’re gonna complete this worksheet.  Number one….” I died a little inside.  Tell them why we’re doing what we’re doing.  This has been a big push in my school district, especially the preparation for college and career aspect.  My students are young, so our why isn’t always long-term and lofty.  But even if it’s “To help you understand what you read,” or “So you can describe the shapes around you,” our ELLs need to know why they are working hard in the ESL room.

My student teacher will go forward and work, and get some good PD, and learn from colleagues and supervisors, and be a fine teacher.  But after these last seven weeks?  I’m ready to have my students all to myself again.  Maybe to take a quiet breath, too.


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