The experience I had in high school was extremely rewarding—the relationships I formed with friends, teachers, and coaches helped shape who I am today. This is the reason I decided that being a teacher and a coach was the right career path for me. I wanted to give students what my teachers and coaches had given me—a sense of direction and inspiration.
Gung ho about my chosen career path, I entered college knowing I wanted to major in secondary education so that I could teach at the high school level. All I wanted to do was get in the classroom and learn how to teach. But of course I had to first go through three years of schoolwork before I could get that classroom experience.
Those three years of school work led up to the first real experience in the classroom—STUDENT TEACHING! Finally, I was going to practically apply my school work to the real world.
I entered the school for the first time, and met my mentor teacher. Immediately I realized that I was not much older than my students; I was 20 years old and my students were between 16 and 18). Nervous is a mild way to describe the feeling.
I was about to spend three months of my college life with these kids, and I was just hoping I didn’t ruin them forever. Although nervous, I was excited and ready to make a difference in their lives, and begin learning what would work best for me as an educator.
I would soon learn that mentor teachers are the most important part of a student teaching experience. Just like any profession, mentors can make or break you. They either take interest in you, or they don't. They either know how to effectively bring you along, or they don't.
So much depends on this person. As a student teacher, I learned some of what others in my position need from their teaching mentors.
1. The ability to allow change into the classroom.
What a teacher has done for their entire career may work perfectly well for them, but a student teacher wants to try all the new tactics he or she has learned in their training. This may be a different style altogether from the mentor teacher.
In order to learn, the student teacher must be allowed to bring changes to the classroom, some of which might fail. A good mentor teacher will allow the student teacher to take the reins of the classroom, and allow them to learn from their mistakes. The mentorship comes in at the end of the day when the mentor/mentee relationship can flourish by discussing what went wrong, what went right, and how to handle certain situations going forward.
2. The ability to allow the student teacher to develop relationships with the students.
When a teacher can develop a relationship with a student and understand what makes that student tick, the process of learning begins. These relationships are vital for the experience of what it is like to be a true teacher. Don’t get in the way of these relationships. Rather, embrace and foster the relationships between the student teacher and the students.
3. The knowledge that their mentoring teacher is there for whatever they may need.
Few things are more challenging than your first teaching experience. There are so many emotions you go through during these three months, which is why student teachers need support in every way from their mentor teacher. This should come in the form of constructive criticism, advice on how the student teacher can be more effective, room for trial and error, and lots of listening.
We all want our kids to be taught by the best teachers, and to develop the kinds of relationships I, and so many other people, have had with their teachers and coaches. The development of a good teacher starts with that first real student teaching experience. A bad or mediocre student teaching experience can be disastrous for all parties involved. The mentor teacher can either drive a person to take a different path other than teaching, or be the driving force behind why that person becomes a great teacher who goes on to positively impacts the lives of our youth.
So, whether you’re a veteran teacher or brand new one, remember your experience as a student teacher, and remind yourself of how important that first experience is for an up-and-coming educator.