During the stressful but very rewarding time of my student teaching, my host teacher came up with a wonderful idea. Why not have her students offer me advice for my first year of teaching.
It was the very last day of my fourth grade placement and I was overcome by a plethora of different emotions. I felt enormous relief that I had made it through the many weeks of extensive lesson planning, being observed by my supervisor, having lessons videotaped, and so on.
I also felt a huge sense of loss. I realized that this this exact group of sweet, charming, and not to mention hilarious combination of students would never exist again.
I’m not sure why that was so devastating to me. I realized of course that most teachers feel that same loss at the end of the year – I just couldn’t believe that in the short amount of time I was there, I became SO attached to these students!
As I was experiencing all these conflicting emotions on my last day, my host teacher suggested to her class that they share words of advice from a students perspective for my first year of teaching. I could barely hold it together, I was trying so hard not to cry (ok, I might have cried a little). But I had to try and keep it together – because I knew their advice would have a lasting impact on my teaching.
So this was it. I’m going to change student names, but here’s some of the advice they gave me:
“Do what Mrs. Bennett does in math. I used to hate in third grade, but now I love solving equations. She made it so fun for me. I never thought I’d like math, but I actually do.”
This one made my host teacher and I smile. This is what teaching is all about. We hope that one day students take ownership of their own learning and enjoy the process. Students are so malleable at this young age – it’s incredible how we can help inspire them to love learning.
“Don’t let the students get too crazy! You have to be strict like Mrs. Bennett. But she’s really fun too. I don’t know how she does it but you have to be both!”
How wonderful that this student recognized that my host teacher was balanced and fair. Students want to feel safe in their learning environment. They want structure, not chaos.
“Move the magnets when you need to.“
The magnets were a behavior management tool in my host teacher’s classroom. Each student was assigned a number and they were given several warnings to correct their behavior before they had to move their magnet. Like Janelle, Sean wanted structure and a safe place to learn.
“You are really good at teaching science lessons! If you end up teaching 8th grade, maybe you should become a science teacher.”
This one made me laugh. Most of my observed lessons were science activities, so I made sure these activities had all the bells and whistles. We did a lot of group work with experiments and manipulatives, so of course they had a great time.
What I learned from these students is that they want a fun, yet structured learning environment. They loved the activities with tools they can move and manipulate. They especially loved experimenting and making predictions with their peers.
I was shocked that not a single student said, “Have lots of class parties!” or “Give your students extra recess and P.E.!”
Either my host teacher had the students well trained or they recognize what truly makes a teacher great. Maybe a little of both?
What advice would you give a first year teacher?