I've had the great opportunity to work some amazing student teachers over my career. Each one has taught me unique lessons about the student teacher/mentor teacher relationship. As I prepare to work with another student teacher this week, I wanted to share some of the insights I have learned.
Be explicit with your expectations
Your student teacher is coming to you as a senior in college. They're balancing ending their college years and beginning their adult career. It can be tricky for some. On day one, go over the expectations with them just as if they were an district employee. Don't assume they will know what's expected of them.
- Let them know what time to report to school each day and what time the school day ends
- Share what meetings they are expected to attend, and other district policies
- Let them know to handle an absence with you (e.g. college class or illness)
- Share with them when you expect them to turn in their lesson plans to you
- Discuss the appropriate way to to contact you (e.g. you would never "text" an absence to your principal)
Does your school use PBIS? Is your school a Leader in Me School? Talk with your student teacher about how you handle behavior in your classroom. Share with them any common language you use throughout the building. Give your student teacher opportunities to redirect behavior in your classroom without your interference. Classroom management is one of the biggest challenges for young teachers to master. Often times, it takes being in the classroom on their own for young teachers to figure it out, but you can certainly fill their "toolbox" with a variety of tried and true strategies to use once they are on their own.
Create time to collaborate on lesson plans
Find some time to sit with your student teacher to simply talk about lesson planning. How do you choose the content you are going to use at each grade level? How do you select songs to teach at every grade level? How do you sequence instruction over the course of a year? How do you create curriculum maps? These are life-saving skills to begin to develop in young teachers. Also, create an overview schedule for your student teacher with what you expect them to teach and when. It will give them time to research and learn songs and chants to use in their teaching. (And please don't turn your entire classroom over to them all at once. Do it gradually with grade levels they feel comfortable with first.)
Discuss how you handle parent communication
Communicating with parents can feel daunting to young teachers. It's easy to feel intimidated when you are much younger than many of your parents. Share examples of the behavior slips you send home, choir notes, recorder notes, newsletters, etc. with your student teacher. I always have my principal read any major communication sent home. Encourage your student teacher to check with their future principal about how they would like communication handled as well. Talk to your student teacher about how to handle parent e-mails (especially the angry ones) so that they understand that all digital communication can be accessed via FOIA. I worked with one principal who encouraged us to always respond to an e-mail with a phone call. A phone call can often de-escalate an issue quickly. I also keep a list of listening and questioning prompts next to me when talking to parents to ensure I am listening instead of reacting to the parents concerns.
Talk about how you handle performances/informances in your building
Help your student teacher to understand how to approach performance expectations with their building principal. What are the traditions in the school? What traditions must be honored and where is there flexibility for change? Is there a budget for performances? Do they need to fill out a building request? Is there a building/district calendar to check your concert dates against to avoid conflicts? Do they need to rent chairs? Pay for an accompanist? How do you select repertoire that is instructional yet, highlights the musical strengths of your students? How do you create a program? Do you involve classroom teachers in your performances? These are all important things a new teacher needs to know!
Allow for mistakes
Mentor teachers, there are going to be ups and downs with your student teachers. Like every other student in your room, they are going to make mistakes. Identify them, discuss them, and move on. Some of my best student teachers made HUGE mistakes in my classroom. Sometimes the mistake isn't with kids - sometimes the mistake is with you. Forgive and move on. I could write a book with all of the mishaps that have occurred with student teachers. Some would make you cringe and others would make you laugh. All of my former student teachers have turned into fabulous teachers and amazing adults, parents, and community members. Be that mentor that makes them see and be the best that they can be!
For those of you who have had student teachers, what else would you add to this list? Leave me a comment below!