New Teacher

Letter to a student teacher

Congratulations! Your student teaching semester has finally arrived!

If you are looking to this post for virtual hugs and encouragement, you will not find them here. Not because I’m bitter and jaded, but because for you to enter student teaching in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, you clearly have the drive, passion and motivation for this work and certainly do not need my encouragement.

Rather, I think back on my student teaching experience and my first few years teaching in conjunction with my current experience and I think “wow, if only I knew then”

  1. Sarcasm has no place in education. None. It doesn’t matter if that’s just who you are, students will. not. take it the way you intend. Even though you certainly don’t feel like it, you are an authority figure to the kids, even if they are only two years younger than you. It’s weird, but it’s real, and so is the hurt if you use sarcasm.
  2. No matter how much you think you know, the best teachers are the ones who are always intellectually humble and curious. Even if you think your cooperating teacher is the complete opposite of what you believe in your core “should” be, keep your mind and heart open because their vast breadth of experience means there is something you will glean from them. (Tl;dr: Don’t be an ass)
    • My story: When I was a college student I worked at a summer program with a teacher that, frankly, I thought was gruff and lazy. He would say to me all the time “you know…there’s always only so much you can do” I scoffed at this statement, thinking of it as his excuse to kick back. I realized later that this was about maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I also recognized, in hindsight, that my overdrive, perfectionist attitude is likely what prompted him to tell me this.
  3. Back to number 1, if a veteren teacher reflects on your teaching or their teaching, remember that it is because the purpose of student teaching is for you to LEARN. Don’t get defensive about your beliefs. If you’re lucky to have to video tape yourself you’ll be shocked at what you learn!
    • My story: My student teaching advisor (NOT my cooperating teacher, this woman met with me only 3 times) was hyper-critical of my laid-back, inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. While I’m sure we probably still wouldn’t click as colleagues, when I got my own classroom I learned quickly that her criticism of me was 100% legit and the only reason I wasn’t eaten alive during student teaching was because of the relationship and routines the students had with their actual teacher. Student teaching is a safe place to make mistakes, learn and grow, but the fall is softer than when you have your own classroom. Take in and reflect on all of the feedback. Everyone wants to help you.
  4. You’re most worried about classroom management. To be honest, 50% of management is careful planning and 50% of is experience. The best you can do right now is tot be really thoughtful about your rules and procedures. It’s hard to anticipate exactly what you will do under different scenarios because you haven’t lived them yet, but things like material distribution, attendance and so on you can plan. You will likely have this part easy because routines will already be established, so keep it on the back burner as you prepare for the fall.
    • My story: I remember this was all we wanted to know before we entered student teaching. I honestly wish someone told us to STOP focusing on that. First of all, we can go all day on this topic as it relates to equity, but as a new teacher what I needed was the establishment of procedures, routines, and the ability to be super clear and explicit about my expectations and outcomes in order to provide my students with the maximum amount of consistency possible, 90% of management “issues” are a direct result of lack of preparation and lack oof consistency. The other 10% is whether or not you are listening to your students.
  5. Ok well maybe you’re not worried most about management because its 2021, we’re still in the pandemic and you are doing some crazy hybrid-flex-virtual model..which is still pandemic teaching. Many of us have gotten in a groove by now, some might have been tossed a curveball this new term. Extend grace to everyone. What worked for you last semester and what works in K12 is not entirely transferrable. There are different challenges and barriers, but you have a really unique perspective in that you’ve already lived the online schooling process. You are familiar with the lack of relationship and decreased motivation. Use that to be empathic with your students.
  6. Knowing your content is not the same as knowing how to teach your content. Focus on how you scaffold your lessons and units, and what your classroom procedures look like. You know your stuff, but actually teaching real live K12 kids is a very different skill:
    • Prepare your worked examples ahead of time and put yourself back into student mode to ask WHY on each step
    • Prepare your questions ahead of time so they are really targeted not just opening questions, but all of those probing questions. Your language is really important, so you want to ensure you are saying what you hope to say and that it is received the way in which you intend it to be received.
    • Solve all of the student homework problems yourself before you help students. You never know when a curveball is going to show up!
    • Do all of the labs and demos yourself before you do them for and with the students. First rule of physics teaching: the demo always fails if you didn’t do it that morning.
  7. Be a scientist and ask WHY about everything. WHY do I think my students/cooperating teacher etc. do this in that way? WHY do I feel so strongly about ____? What does my identity, positonality, relationships and prior experience bring to this classroom? What do my students value and why? And most importantly, when you ask these questions about your students and their families, don’t answer the question based on your own observations. Literally ask them.
  8. Find the Bright Spots and celebrate them. This year is hard on all of us. Even still, those bright spots tend to pop up. Find them, write them down, celebrate them. You chose this path for a reason. This work is challenging, but it can also be invigorating, rewarding and more meaningful to your students than you might ever know.

With so much joy, support and anticipation,
Marianna Ruggerio

Your “Do Now” List:

  1. Sign up for AAPT. The student rate is super-crazy cheap! Opt for the hard copies of The Physics Teacher journal and skim through them. There are so many excellent nuggets!
  2. Find your local section(s) of AAPT and get on the mailing lists. Go to whatever meetings you can.
  3. Go to at least one National AAPT meeting in the next 3 years. Make a point to go to high school teacher camp and/or one of the other big workshops.
  4. Get a twitter. Now. Let me know you joined from my post and I’ll help get you connected.
  5. Look up Eugina Etkina and her facebook page Exploring Physics and start getting connected
  6. Purchase and read the book The Science of Learning Physics by Jose Mestre and Jennifer Docktor.
Parting letter from my cooperating teacher to me upon completing student teaching

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