If you think teaching is hard, try being a student-teacher – or as Pitt likes to call us MATS, interns. You’re the one who is hovering around the classroom, not saying much and trying your hardest to both fit in and earn respect as teacher. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of impossible. It’s also pretty nerve-wracking and frustrating. There’s so much you want to do or say to get involved and have the students love you from day 1, but that just doesn’t happen.
And that was me for a couple weeks. I just stood and paced around the room during class and got to observe a few other classes. But for the most part, I was just that guy, who dressed up, and didn’t do much during class. I was even having trouble with names (and to be honest, I’m still only at about 50% right now).
I feel like most beginning teachers, especially those who are maybe new to a school district or haven’t been around long enough to earn a reputation among students, have a hard time connecting with students. But they’re luckier than us lowly student-teachers. They get to talk from day 1. It’s their classroom. They’re the teacher. And the students are the students. They are no longer that sideshow student-teacher.
That, then, was my biggest hurdle in these first few weeks. I needed to get over the fact that I was an intern and still learning about how schools work, let alone how to be a teacher. I had to make connections with students, but it was tough.
That all changed, however, yesterday.
Yesterday, my mentor teacher was out during the morning periods (she has class periods 2-5 consecutively). It was either have the sub run the lesson or give me a shot at it. You see, in Pitt’s program, it’s supposed to be a gradual process. We’re supposed to observe for a month or so, maybe prep a lesson after 6 weeks, teach part of a lesson shortly thereafter, maybe do a whole one sometime in the beginning of November, and try to do a couple in a row before winter break. That’s what is supposed to happen.
But I’m teaching seniors. If I didn’t get myself known to them as soon as possible, there was no way I was going to get their attention sometime in November. So, I had to make a decision about yesterday’s lessons. I chose to teach them all – beginning to end, 41 minutes each, 4 classes in a row. I just wanted to jump right into it. I didn’t want to ease myself into earning their respect. And because they were seniors applying to college in the near future, they wanted me to help them with their college application essays. That’s what my lesson was on.
The first period went well and the second was even better. By the time my fourth class (in a row, mind you) came in, I felt so comfortable teaching. I moved around the classroom a little bit more. I felt more relaxed. I asked questions that made students think a little bit more and make stronger connections between what I was telling them and what they could do with their essays.
Needless to say, I felt great after 5th period.
But just because I feel good, does that mean I did a good job? Well, for starters, the sub thought I did fantastic. That’s great, but I needed to know how the students felt. What did they think? That got answered today.
I spoke with my mentor teacher this morning and she told me that when she came back in the afternoon, she ran into some students. They said they missed her, which I can see, but she asked how they thought I did. Apparently they thought I did just fine. And above all, the students think that I’ll make it as a teacher.
I like the sound of that.
Still, though, that was my mentor telling that to me in a second-hand nature. But it proved true. Today, during the various periods, the students came up to me, talked about college, fantasy football and where I went to high school – basically class and non-class topics alike. For some, they wanted advice. They saw me as teacherly figure who could help them. For others, there was just some free time at the end of the period and wanted to talk.
It feels awesome to finally make connections with students. It’s still early, but it’s a good start.