“Mr. Stanford, are you teaching us now?”
“Yes, (student’s name). I am.”
“Yes!” (Silent fist pump.)
This was how my lesson began this afternoon. As I was giving directions to my class, one student couldn’t help but note the obvious. He was brave enough to ask the question that every student was silently asking themselves: Was Mr. Stanford really teaching? The elephant in the room had been revealed.
Thankfully, the reaction of this particular student was positive. However, there were undoubtedly those students who were uncomfortable with me taking the reins of the math curriculum. I don’t blame them. I remember feeling uneasy when I was a student. Part of being a successful student teacher is being able to navigate this uneasiness.
Student teachers, like any other classroom teacher, must earn the respect of their students. However, unlike classroom teachers, a student teacher must gain this respect while being held to the same standards as their students’ normal classroom teacher. Almost always, the bar is always set extremely high.
But what an opportunity! Student teaching is unlike any experience I will have as an educator. This community of learners that I am so fortunate to be a part of will never be together in the same capacity ever again. What an opportunity. I found this thought floating in the back of my mind as I worked my way through my prepared lesson.
When the dust cleared and the initial ecstasy had worn off, three points really stood out to me about my first teaching experience at Andrew Jackson:
- Show your students you’re human. We’ve all heard the stories. A teacher sees one of their students outside of the classroom and they are absolutely astonished and in complete shock that they exist beyond the school day. But it is also important to show your human side while teaching. I stumbled over a handful of phrases during my lesson today, I blanked on a student’s name when calling on him, and I almost completely forgot a central point of my lesson (thankfully my cooperating teacher reminded me). The point is, I messed up quit a bit. And although I initially felt embarrassed, my students could have cared less. In fact, I doubt most of them noticed. But I do know that they absolutely loved seeing me laugh at myself. As my cooperating teacher wisely put it, sometimes you have to make your students laugh at your own expense.
- Address and conquer the tension in the room. Like I said at the beginning this piece, my students were well aware of the fact that this was my first whole class lesson. Some of them couldn’t help themselves. Some were excited, others were nervous, and a handful didn’t know how to react. As I worked my way through the content, I made sure to address my students as if they were just that: my students. I wanted there to be no mistaking who the teacher in the room was during that hour and a half window.
- Connecting the content to your students’ lives is essential. My lesson today centered on very abstract geometric concepts. It takes a special third grader to get really pumped up over line segments, rays, and lines. I found that providing more context to these abstract concepts made a huge difference. As I spoke about line segments, I spoke about Chicago’s famous “L” trains. Endpoints became stations and lines because train tracks. Students perked up in their seats. They knew about the “L.” As residents of Chicago, they had all taken the CTA before. The connection was made. I found that my ability to connect my teaching with my students’ daily lives helped me convey the content more clearly and in a more student-friendly manner. It also helped me earn a little more respect.
While this was only my first lesson, I had overcome a major hurdle in my student teaching experience. Like one of my former cooperating teachers once told me, the first lesson is always the hardest. Once the students realize that you are a teacher too, they will begin to open themselves up to you. Slowly but surely, I am integrating myself into my third grade community of learners. I started with my foot in the door and today I managed to wiggle my leg into the room. While there is still much to be gained, I can also be proud of what I gave accomplished to this point.
Hopefully there will be more silent fist pumps in the near future!