How to be a Standout Student Teacher, Get Noticed and Get a Job
How long does it take to become an awesome teacher? Well, that answer depends entirely upon you! I hope to give you a head start with this book, but the progress you make over your first few years of teaching will come from your own efforts.
Supercharging Your Experience
It's very common to feel uncertain when you start a new job, especially if that job includes managing the needs of twenty to thirty children. When you have that much responsibility, it's natural to want to play it safe and not venture far outside of your classroom comfort zone.
I'm going to make a case for resisting those safety urges and engaging in all the development opportunities available to you within your school. It doesn't take much extra effort – you just have to take full advantage of opportunities that already exist.
Student teachers: this means you!
Please don't think that just because you are only spending a couple of months in a school during your practicum that these tips don't apply to you. I’ve had experiences with dozens of student-teachers, both in my classroom and in my co-workers’ classrooms.
It's amazing the how the progress of these college students can differ during their time in an elementary school… and it’s based entirely upon their attitude and approach to the opportunities presented during their practicum.
A common issue is for student teacher to completely imprint upon their mentor teacher. In some cases this can be ideal. Other times not so much, if you recall my earlier chapter on the types of mentor you may receive. In reality, even if there is a lot to be learned from your assigned mentor teacher, you should be imprinting upon the entire school experience, not just what you can learn from a single person.
It is also quite common to see student teachers timidly existing on the fringes of the school experience, only stepping to the front when required by their college curriculum. Let me tell you: if you want to be an awesome teacher, then your first steps to that exalted status begin when you first set foot in any school during your practicum.
And with that, let's take a look at the experience of “Miss Franklin,” a true story with some lessons for both student-teachers and first-year teachers starting a new job.
Being “Miss Franklin”
Question: How does a student teacher squeeze every last drop of opportunity from their in-classroom, practicum experience?
Answer: With a lot of hustle and a willingness to network with everyone in the school!
I've known of student teachers who spent the minimum necessary time in the school and barely any staff even knew they existed. And then others… well, let me share a story.
When my own son was in 4th grade, in about the middle of the year we started to hear all about “Miss Franklin.” Who was she? He had no idea, just that she was an energetic new teacher that all the kids wanted to know. It turned out she was a student teacher for a whole different grade level!
But she actively sought out kids from the entire school. She volunteered to help in other rooms, doing one-on-one work, proctoring tests, giving reading assessments, etc. She went out to the playground once in a while and played with the kids. She even spent time in the lunchroom engaging with all classes. And she approached parents at pickup and dropoff time and talked to them about their children.
Within a month or two, every kid knew her and as a consequence, every teacher did too. Why? Because she became the engaging adult that kids wanted her to be.
Recall from our earlier discussions about becoming a classroom leader that elementary children really, really want to engage with adults. If you demonstrate that you are the kind of adult they want to engage with, the rest will take care of itself.
Are you hoping for full-time work soon after you graduate?
Notice the subtitle at the top of the page: “How to be a Standout Student Teacher, Get Noticed and Get a Job.”
The key is to place yourself into situations as often as possible where the maximum number of teachers and administrators can experience your approach to teaching and/or interacting with children. How? By reaching out to children any way you can.
Building a solid reputation
I have no doubt that Miss Franklin got sterling recommendations that took her from an “unknown” to a “somewhat known” quantity when she began her job search. And think of all the child-centered examples she could share during her teacher interviews! Every little bit helps.
What’s that? You don’t feel like you are ready to jump in and be a “Miss Franklin” right off the bat? Let’s start with a baby step. I have an assignment for you.
Any time you walk into a school, whether it be during student teaching, interviewing for a job, or starting your first job, I want you to talk to the first child you see after checking in at the office. I’m very serious about this – the very first one, whether it's on the playground or walking down the hall.
It doesn't have to be an in-depth conversation. You just have to say, “Where are you headed to?” Say it with a smile and a look of interest on your face and you are guaranteed to get an answer. If it's a little one, squat down a bit to get to her level.
After she answers, give her a positive affirmation and send her on her way. Simple. But important.
Why am I asking you do this? Because I want you to act like a teacher from the very moment you set foot in any school. And teachers never hesitate to talk to children.
I know how it can be overwhelming to step into an elementary school when you've been out of them for so many years. All the elements that come together to make an elementary school what it is (the sights and sounds and smells and bells and routines) can give you a false impression that it is a carefully balanced system and that if you interrupt it in any way you'll be upsetting some critical process.
As an “outsider” you may have the feeling that you should just sort of drift through unnoticed – and definitely not talk to the young inhabitants of this unique environment.
I'm here to tell you that this veneer of organization that you see in an elementary school is just that: a veneer. Of course there are systems and schedules and things going on, but it's a turbulent place because it is filled with a few hundred young children. The people that keep this system going through constant guidance and corrections are the adults. Therefore, it is no issue whatsoever for you (just another adult) to talk to one of these kids.
Again: teachers talk to children. And you, whether you feel like it or not, are now a teacher – even if you still need to get a piece of paper to certify that.
So you are talking to kids without issue, filling the role they expect of an adult. Next step: jump in.
Jumping in is particularly necessary for student-teachers. This is your golden opportunity to learn a lot during a time when your whole purpose (college) is to learn. So here’s your game plan: do anything and everything.
This is not the time to show up at 8:59 am and leave at 3:01 pm. If you really want to be a teacher, you should be mining it for all it’s worth:
- Take on the after-school science club
- Coach the volleyball team
- Help out at math or reading night
- Attend staff meetings
- Attend parent association meetings
You get the point. Many of these activities will qualify as resume experience – important for someone who doesn’t have any paid teaching positions to list.
- Take notes
- Ask questions
Expanding your role
In an earlier chapter, I talked about “taking center stage” and encouraged you to put on the teacher persona that the children expect you to fill when you walk into their classroom. Acting like the teacher they expect will soon lead to being the teacher that you hope to become.
When you get out of your car in the parking lot of a school, no matter how much confidence you lack, step into your up-and-coming teacher role. You know, the person who is not afraid to learn everything a school has to offer.