How to Survive the Student Teaching Experience
by Seth Sosebee
Student teaching is generally the final step for bachelor's ― or master's ― level teaching degrees. Although the requirements vary by state, student teaching is notoriously challenging. For many future teachers, it's their first time leading a classroom, which can be stressful. Student teaching can provide you with a chance to boost your resume before applying for jobs. The experiences you gain as a student teacher will provide insight for your cover letter and insightful answers during job interviews.
Keep reading for tips on how to get through student teaching and emerge well-prepared for a full-time teaching position.
Five challenges of student teaching
During my student teaching experience, I found myself in the copy room with an attorney who was teaching a law and justice class at the school. I asked her which was more difficult: the first year of law school or student teaching.
She said student teaching was one of the hardest things she had ever done. If you're nervous about your student teacher experience or struggling to balance your internship with your classwork, know that you're not alone.
Here are the biggest challenges faced by most aspiring teachers during the practicum portion of their student teaching internship. Ready yourself for them and enter the experience prepared:
- Insufficient subject knowledge
Understanding a concept and being able to teach it effectively to a room of 37 students are two different things. Student teaching necessitates a holistic understanding of concepts, rather than rote memorization.
- Time management
Inside and outside of the classroom, efficiency is both crucial and elusive. If you're inefficient, planning and grading will snowball, and emails will pile up. It's easy to be overwhelmed, but having a plan or checking in with your mentor can help you stay on track.
- Maintenance of teacher/student-teacher relationship
Student teachers are guests in their mentor's classroom. Professional teachers have their expectations, classroom culture and best practices that interns must respect, while also finding their way of doing things.
- University program requirements
During this time, you will essentially have a full-time job student teaching. Additionally, your school will likely require you to keep a journal, submit lesson plans, attend classes and more. This will be a lot to juggle, and multi-tasking will be key.
Standing in front of a classroom for the first time can be nerve-wracking. You'll be answering rapid-fire questions and balancing school and work each day. Throw in lack of sleep and an immune system unacquainted with the germs of hundreds of breathing, coughing, sneezing students, and student teaching can take its toll. The faster you learn to manage your time and practice healthy habits, the better off you'll be.
Four pieces of advice for new student teachers
It's easy to look at veteran teachers and wonder how they do it all. Remember, your mentors (and their colleagues) have worked for years to hone their skills and systems for classroom management, grading and everything else that might arise during a school day. Over time, you'll develop your strategies and techniques and better understand why student teaching is important. Until then, here's four tips on how to survive student teaching and keep stress at bay.
- Be honest and sincere
Be honest with everyone — your students, their parents, your administrators and your colleagues. When a student asks a question, be honest if you don't know the answer and work with the student to help find it. Kids have a sixth sense for detecting when teachers aren't being truthful.
- Ask for help when you need it
Even though you'll have many responsibilities as a student teacher, you're not yet an employee of the school. That means some of the projects you work on are ultimately still the responsibility of your classroom mentor. Speak up if you are feeling overwhelmed and you need relief.
- Don't be a mimic
Your mentor will have their own way of managing the classroom. They'll dress a certain way, have a unique rapport with their students and attack their daily lessons in a manner that works for them. You should do the same thing, bringing your personality and experience to the job. Your internship will be difficult enough without forcing yourself to become a body-double for your mentor.
- Find humor in the job and try to enjoy yourself
For all its difficulties, remember why you want to be a teacher and have some fun. Being able to laugh at the challenges you face during your internship will defuse tension in the classroom.
Taking the next steps after student teaching
The student teaching experience is ordinarily around 10 weeks long, and you'll be amazed how quickly it flies by. Before you know it, you will be handing several classrooms full of kids back to their teachers and applying for a classroom job of your own. When you apply to jobs, draw on specific examples from your student teaching internship. You'll be showing your potential boss the ways you'll be an asset to the students, faculty and community.
Boost your chances of getting hired by using our Resume Builder or Resume Templates, as well as our Cover Letter Templates, to create a compelling application that highlights your experience and education.