I’ve made it a point to instill in my own children that once they have reached some sort of success in their passions–be it leading the ice hockey team, editing the school literary magazine, or exhibiting work in an art show–it is their duty to extend a guiding hand to those who will succeed them. What I hope they have learned from their years of enduring my pearls of motherly wisdom is to lay the groundwork for another’s journey: tell others how it works, counsel against pitfalls, and encourage the next trailblazers. Since teaching is both my passion as well as my profession, I hold the same standard.
Reach back and help the next one coming along.
During my tenure as a teacher, I hosted five student teachers, people of varied backgrounds, hailing from diverse colleges, entering a profession where virtually all is learned on-the-job versus between the pages of pedagogical textbooks. Being a NBCT calls us to be leaders, and becoming a cooperating teacher is one of the most personally and professionally rewarding avenues of stewardship in the profession.
Teaching is an art, and that art is all-encompassing. It is a dynamic role that I’d be hard-pressed to define by listing myriad verbs that outline my day. For that reason, explaining to the student teacher what she is about to embark on can be daunting. How much introduction to classroom management is needed? When do you bring in the other side of the responsibilities, all the things that make up your day (and evening, and weekend) when you aren’t in front of the students? What do you hand over first? For much of this, I rely on my gut; you have to be able to read people, but you, Classroom Teacher, already do that, and do that well. We are teachers; we deeply know learners. In some respects, you address the role of a student teacher as you do your students: you introduce, you plan, you discuss, you model, you assess, you revise, and eventually, you hand over the reins and let go. The process won’t be linear, and it likely won’t be smooth. You’ll have to juggle your students’ learning and meeting objectives at the same time as an adult learner. It’s the proverbial balancing act to make the experience authentic for all participants, so you do a little two-step of biting your lip, paired with intervening to gently nudge in the right direction.
Be prepared for skepticism from some colleagues who are sure to see your advisement of a student teacher as your ticket to a semester of freedom in the staff lounge, essentially ensuring your easy cruise through half of the school year, sipping your coffee and flipping through today’s news. While guiding a student teacher through the mounting requirements from colleges and State Boards of Education certainly requires different work than the daily demands of a classroom teacher, be assured, it is no less work.
Mentoring in this way allows you to volunteer your knowledge and accompany a student teacher on her journey toward committed and reflective involvement in the profession. So, Classroom Teacher, I invite you to reach back and help the next one coming along. Tell. Counsel. Encourage.