What I Have Learned in Student Teaching
Reflecting upon my nearly 16 weeks of student teaching experience, I feel I have an extensive array of learning experiences to share. However, there are three areas of learning that have been most significant and meaningful to me. These include my perception of teaching and learning, relationships with other teachers, and curriculum planning.
First, my perception of teaching and learning has been widely broadened by my student teaching experience. I was generally a quiet and diligent student in all of my formal education and enjoyed most of my time at school. I understood that not all students enjoyed school as much as I did, but trying to teach students who are completely unmotivated was challenging to me who had not experienced the same degree of disinterest. I think a teacher who experiences some of the same struggles as the student can often empathize more because they have been in the same situation.
Further, the students’ classroom behavior was often challenging to me because I think I have a vision of a productive classroom that does not usually fit with how real classrooms are. I honestly cannot remember much about how my classrooms were managed when I was a student; I probably blocked out most distractions so I could read or study. Therefore, I believed that all classrooms should be quiet with all students at their seat at all times I wanted them to be seated (which might be the whole class period at times). Though I still feel this is an ideal that may be achieved someday in my own classroom, I have found few classrooms that appear to hold that same ideal.
Therefore, the conflict between my ideas about how a classroom should look, sound, and behave and the actual classrooms I was placed was challenging. I wanted a good experience, and part of that included experimenting with methods and procedures I thought would be effective. However, I also knew if I changed everything (especially in my second placement, where rules and procedures were already in place), the students would have difficulty adapting to my teaching and there might be rebellion. I compromised by changing the things I thought were ultimately necessary but left other things that I felt I could work with, though they weren’t ideal for me.
One of the second influential learning experiences I had concerned my relationship with other teachers. Again, I think I had expectations that perhaps I should not have had. I was expecting more instruction from all of the teachers I worked with, but found many times they came to me for advice or suggestions on how to do something or handle a certain situation. I know the schools I taught in have specific issues, which appear to cause teachers more stress. For example, at East High School, this was the first year all teachers were teaching six out of seven periods (from five last year), and they were experiencing more strain due to this and were less available physically and emotionally. My cooperating teacher at East High was very helpful though, and I did feel very supported and mentored by him. At Central, I think there is a lot of behavior and classroom management issues that the teachers struggle with, and everyone is struggling. Essentially, I thought everyone would have it together except for me, and they don’t! In some ways this was discouraging, because I often felt I needed more help than I received. In other ways it was encouraging because it was good to know I was not the only person struggling with similar issues, and the struggle continues but we must all be persistent.
Finally, I also learned a lot relating to curriculum planning. Upon visiting other schools in my field experiences and taking classes at UNI I had encountered different curriculums, but student teaching gave me new experiences and questions about curriculum. At East High the physics curriculum was very well organized; I knew exactly what I needed to teach at what pace, though I could choose the specific activities and lesson plans I wanted to use. However, in chemistry I was given much more freedom about not only how to teach but what to teach. I was encouraged to “teach what I wanted to” or what I thought the students should know. Similarly at Central Middle School, before planning my unit on the Central Nervous System and Drugs, I checked the Waterloo Community School District Standards and the following is required for 8th grade students to know:
Benchmark 1: Know the functions and characteristics of the nervous system.
Benchmark 2: Know how substances affect the nervous system. (http://www.waterloo.k12.ia.us/teachinglearning/index.php?pageid=204)
My cooperating teacher helped me in showing me what she had taught the previous year, but I was quite appalled at the lack of specific district standards! The nervous system is a rather large system with nearly immeasurable functions and characteristics! Now, I understand different districts have different policies, and this is partly what troubles me, for I think all students in America should have a right to equal high-quality education. Therefore, I learned that I desire to teach in a district where clear standards and benchmarks have been written so that I do not have to guess at what the students should know, or simply teach them what I feel they should know. I learned I think it would be too stressful for me to figure out, completely on my own, what to teach students every day.
In conclusion, though most of my learning experiences stemmed from misguided expectations or beliefs, I am thankful for everything I have learned, for I know it has changed my thinking about teaching and student learning and will be invaluable in my decision to teach at a particular school someday.