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A+ Student Teaching: Winning at All Costs

Congratulations! Welcome to Student Teaching! You made it…

You’ve got your assignment, your cooperating teacher is standing nearby, and you’ve got a shopping list for your pile of supplies…

The problem is this…

The stuff that’s in the teaching books doesn’t always work with real live kids. That’s the part nobody tells you.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Education’s broken. It’s your job to fix it. You will change the world…

Sound tough? No–not really, if we take some of the most common problems and flip them upside down. When we do that, we create opportunity.

Here are five problems you may experience and some tools to defeat them.

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE: RESISTANCE AND NEGATIVITY:

The minute you say “I’m going to be teacher,” the world descends. You can’t go to a picnic without someone telling you education horror stories–how broke you’re going to be, telling you to be a doctor, or venting about the state of education today.

Author Stephen Pressfield calls this “resistance.” The ironic thing is it’s often the people closest to you who will be the roughest on you. It never seems negative–it seems protective, caring.

The end result–you second guess yourself.

Resistance is everywhere–the more successful you become, the more you’ll feel it.

People may feel they’re protecting you, they may be jealous of you, or they may just be reliving their own failures, but what they’re really doing is putting pressure on you.

When you hear things like “Good luck with that,” “You shouldn’t” “That’s not going to work,” or other subtle putdowns, be warned.

  • Slowly cut the negative people, things, and influences out of your life.
  • Know this: negativity and resistance are often disguised as good will. They are poison. Remove them.
  • People closest to you may be negative. See them on your terms, in positive situations.
  • If you’re partnered with an emotional vampire and can’t escape, try to discuss the subject. If that isn’t possible, separate yourself mentally when you can’t direct the conversation to positive things.
  • Leave the lunchroom if it’s a negative space.
  • Find one or two people and do your own coffee thing at least once a week.
  • Turn off the news and adjust your playlist so you’re surrounded with positive influences and joy.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO: FINANCES

If you struggled to make it this far, we need to have a serious talk: money.  I can tell a student teacher a mile away, because you have tons of treats, stickers, supplies, and stuff–and the credit card bills to prove it.

In some cases it’s not your fault–someone told you to buy all that stuff. I have one word of advice: Don’t.

In the real world, your job is supposed to pay you, not the other way around. If you get into bad spending habits now, you will spend yourself into a life of “but the kids need it,” which is debt and misery.

You can–and must–be financially successful as a teacher. One thing your kids need more than you buying them another pencil or game for the class is you as an example. Your financial success makes them want to follow in your tracks. I haven’t always done this right, and I learned–in order for me to make students more successful than me, I must be successful.

The cure: Say no to spending your paycheck–or your credit card–on your job or placement. This means you may have to be creative–scrounging, borrowing, or reusing supplies. You may even need to change a lesson. This doesn’t mean you can’t bring in treats or give gifts, but you must budget for this and watch that spending creep doesn’t take over your personal budget.

I did not shop for my classroom this year, and I say “no” to many things. This is because I’m still paying off loans and debt myself, and that needs to be a priority. Make your financial success a priority–it can and must be done, especially if you’re starting out with student loans.

  • Just say no to classroom spending.
  • Find economical ways to build in treats–it doesn’t always need to be a “thing.” It can be an experience, or down time, too.

Always look for extra opportunities to put yourself in a better space–this could be by not spending, by paying down expensive loans as soon as possible, or by doing some freelancing on the side.

There are tons of “teacher jobs” out there that can help you pay down your debt as a beginning teacher. My suggestion is to look outside coaching and tutoring, into some high-paying spaces where you have talent–like consulting, freelancing, and technology.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE: SCHEDULING

The day is only 24 hours long–even for you. You don’t get more time than that.

You’ll have to work hard to get through student teaching, but that’s not because we’re hazing you. It’s simply because you don’t know all the ways you can be efficient.

I don’t like to call them shortcuts, because that sounds lazy, but let’s call it like it is.

One day, I was talking to a new teacher. Really, I was talking to a stack of papers. It was so tall I couldn’t see who was behind the desk. “That’s a fire hazard,” I said. She’s probably still there finishing up the last bunch.

I used to be her. Then I realized–I don’t need to touch every single thing a student produces. That’s micromanagement, and no one can read my handwriting when I give feedback anyway. I end up having to translate.

After a while, I learned to do a few things–let students be responsible for feedback at times, and to structure my classes to give me enough time to walk around and give verbal feedback. This gives me personal time with students and groups where we do progress checks and have some great conversations.

The conversations, by the way, are what makes the day valuable and where true learning takes place.

I went from the type of teacher who has old-school tests, homework, and half a rainforest of papers to one whose kids give themselves homework. We all enjoy class.

  • Design a good flow.
  • You don’t need to touch every paper.
  • Not everything needs to have a grade
  • The less work I assign, the more work they do–because they want to.
  • Give students optional things to learn related to class–and their passions. Again, it doesn’t have to have a grade.

Now that you’re thinking of a good flow for class, don’t ruin it by joining everything.  Student teachers and new teachers can be targets. You’re nice, happy, and enthusiastic. You want to get hired. You can’t walk around saying, “No.”

You must. Say it with me now. “NO!”

Chances are, you’ll be asked to coach, lead, do, try, and be involved. It’s great to be involved, but it’s easy to be overinvolved. That’s a recipe for burnout.

Memorize this line, “That sound great. I promised myself I’d take a year to learn the ropes, then I’ll start coaching and getting involved.” You didn’t say “no…” exactly. You gave yourself room to make a low-pressure decision later on.

Then, if you want to be coach or class advisor you can find out what the real deal is and if it fits into your outside schedule.

  • Default to “no”
  • Say “yes” on your terms, after you’re familiar with the day-to-day job and time commitments.
  • Pick one thing to be involved with and do it well. No human on earth should be on every committee and involved in every activity.
  • Leave yourself some free time. Trust me on this.

PROBLEM FOUR: STAGNATION

This isn’t really a problem right away–you’re brand new. Everything’s exciting. But stagnation is like a fungus. It creeps in, and before you know it, you’re in the same comfortable routine. You may teach the same grade or subject for years with a similar curriculum or test.

Don’t worry–there’s a cure.

Get out of education.

No, I’m not telling you to quit teaching.

I am telling you to leave the classroom. It’s critical to develop interests outside education. This is not only good for you–you come back to the class refreshed and inspired–it’s good for students as well.

The more interests and passions you develop, the more you’ll layer that onto whatever you’re teaching. This guarantees your class will be exciting. Students start seeing your passions and real-world connections and they want to learn.

I’ve done a ton of things outside the classroom–everything from writing professionally, research, photography, worked in Silicon Valley tech, started a homestead, taught martial arts, and owned businesses. I always have a story that relates to something we’re doing, and often I’m learning my new passions as students learn in school.

We talk about this. “Guess what I learned,” moments give me street cred. Students see me as an equal learner.

This is the secret to all of teaching and learning, by the way. When we respect each other as learners, learning becomes a cycle. I’m just as excited to learn from my students as they are from me.

I’m teaching high school and young adults, but I’ve taught preschool and elementary aged students, too–I learned equally from them, too, because they haven’t yet learned to say “I can’t” and they function naturally.

There’s always a lesson to learn.

  • Get out of the classroom.
  • Learn a new passion.
  • Take a class that’s way outside your field.
  • Get a part-time job that’s fun.
  • Volunteer.

A note on PLNs:

Everyone in education talks about their “PLN.” You need a professional learning network, too. This is big on Twitter–you can join an education Twitter chat and start meeting people with education passion.

When you teach in one school for years, you become a family–the crazy uncle, the aunt who steals sugar packets. You begin to know each other. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes, you’re not exactly finding the person who thinks like you because there are only a few people.

When you cast your search out nationally using social media, you will find those people. That’s a game changer.

You can also go to local conferences and meetups. Here in Rhode Island, we have several tech conferences a year, including EdCamp–one of the most inspirational experiences I’ve had, and several blended learning conferences. The Highlander Institute sponsors several events and meetups to help teachers bring technology into the classroom. There are several “makerspaces” that pop up, including one in Newport. If you’re reading this and outside of Rhode Island, I promise you–there is an innovative education crowd where you live, and if it’s not close enough, use Skype and Twitter.

I’ve connected with people all over the world, right from my living room. It’s a game changer.

If you’ve got a couple spare bucks in your wallet and want to go to a big national conference like South by Southwest EDU or ISTE, you can do that, too.

  • Form a “PLN” dedicated to connecting with inspiring people.
  • Go to at least one local conference or meetup a year.
  • Blog or create things to share with others.
  • Challenge yourself to find one new innovation to try in the classroom.

PROBLEM FIVE: PRESSURE

The test. The curriculum. Faculty meetings. The bell…

There are just too many requirements out there.  Pressure is real.

Just when you think you’re on schedule, there’s something else–fire alarms, snow days, kids in crisis… it never ends.

So, you jam-pack your lesson plans so full it’s like that snake popping out of the can.

I have two words of advice:

One–You’re not going to teach all that.

And… two–it’s okay.

I used to think the world would end if kids didn’t leave my class knowing all the content. They’d never get into Yale and Harvard and life would end badly.

Guess what–none of us can afford Yale and Harvard anyway, and the most successful people I know don’t walk around spouting facts. They apply them to real-world situations.

The sad truth is no one comes to my school to take my class.  I make it fun and valuable, then they get to use what I teach.

“I never teach you anything I haven’t personally used to make money,” I say. Sure, I teach the content, but if we don’t master every little fact, I know this–I’ve drilled it down to valuable skills they can take with them.

The world is changing today. They need new skills. More than learning “stuff,” they need to learn how to learn. They can–they have the world in their phones.

  • You will not get to everything you want to teach–that’s okay
  • Everyone will interrupt you–go with the flow.
  • If you think there will be some outside pressure–prepare for more.
  • Much of your pressure is you demanding a lot of yourself–learn to do this in a positive, constructive way
  • Feel great about each victory and don’t dwell on every defeat.

There are two types of pressure: real and imaginary

Most stress in my day isn’t as big a deal as I think at first.

I’ve learned to do this–step back, drink some coffee and ask myself, “Is this productive?”

If my lesson plan didn’t go as planned, I try something new. If there’s some grumpiness in the cosmos, I reset myself and worry about the class in front of me.

Sometimes the pressure is real–you may have high-stakes stuff or emergency response, and you need the energy to handle it. You will have that energy and more if you concentrate only on the pressures that are important, say no to the rest, and focus on the task at hand.

The bottom line?

The bottom line is this. You can easily drive yourself crazy with checklists and lesson plans as you student teach, but it all boils down to three things.

Simplify: Always look for areas that are critical, and cut out the ones that aren’t. This gives you time, opportunity, and in some cases money to deal with the important things.

Build skills and relationships: You must send your students into the world with skills to make their dreams real. To do that, you must keep building your skills, and keep only the most positive people in your life.

Have and bring value: Value yourself. You are gold. Feel the same way about your students. If you are always looking at each day as an opportunity to bring your students value, you will be the teacher they talk about when they change the world.

Accept and give feedback with love and kindness. Learn to separate good feedback from bad and act on the good feedback. The people who care about your success often have have advise that hits close to home. You can give tough feedback to students with kindness, too. That’s an art, and they’ll work harder for you.

Not everyone will like you. Some adults will be threatened. Some students won’t like your style. This is the hardest of all. Recognize it for what it is. Don’t take things personally, never act in anger, and stand by your beliefs, ethics, teaching style, and the things that make you, you.

That is perhaps the most important thing of all.

 

You can reach me on Twitter at @runningdmc or email me at dawn@broketeacher.com

I wish you the most successful student teaching semester ever. Thank you to all the cooperating teachers–it is my hope you will learn from your inspiring mentees and develop relationships that extend long past this semester.