10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Student Teaching

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1. Your sleeping schedule will change.

You will go to bed at 9:30 on a Friday. It will happen. You will start to question if you should text a fellow teaching friend at 10:00pm thinking “ooh, they might be in bed.” Sure, there are those “cool” student teachers that go out to the bars every night of the week, but these individuals spend the next morning explaining why they are late to their CT and un-tagging Facebook photos. When you’re waking up at 5a.m. every morning it is completely acceptable to crash at 9:30. You will regret the lifestyle you’re missing, but only a little bit a time. Pizza, Netflix, and some papers to grade make for a lovely evening. You’re an adult now; leave the late nights for those who need booze to be funny or interesting, you’ve got kids to teach and a future to inspire.

2. You will spend money on top of money.

Not only are you paying tuition, books, rent, utilities…etc you’re paying for gas to drive to your school (sometimes up to a 45 minute commute both ways!) You are also paying for classroom supplies. Yes, there is a process to order them from the school district, but they do those orders in large chunks, meaning you might not see your supplies until three weeks later. Broken, penniless, but exasperated, you will haul yourself to the Office Max/Depot/Bodega/whatever and buy basic supplies for your kids to use in class. Pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, hanging file folders, post-it notes, the list goes on! This is excluding any supplies you may need for the occasional fun activity like construction paper, or large pieces of butcher paper for poster presentations.

In addition, you told yourself you would never bribe your students with food or candy, but darn it all if it doesn’t happen. Maybe your supervisor is coming in to observe you, or the principal is visiting. You panic, you fold, and you bribe. You will have a cart loaded with Cheetos and Kit-Kats and get comments from the cashier like “well someone’s hungry!” or “are there any vegetables in there?” Hold your head high, you educator extraordinaire! Walk out of that mega-mart with bags of junk food with pride! You’re one step closer to being a “real” teacher. The bottom line is, you will spend money, but every dime will be worth it. Teachers bribe because bribery works, and you’re not trading money or lottery tickets, you’re tossing a kid a Kit-Kat so he’s a little nicer next class, big deal.

3. You will suddenly become a parent.

“My kids” will be something you utter often in conversations during your student teaching experience. Variations include “my kiddos, my little ones, my boys/girls,” and “my fourth hours.” People who haven’t known you will legitimately think you are talking about your actual, biological children. This is partially because “my kids” is a little bit misleading, but also you will talk about them like they are your own. Their success will make you feel so proud of them, and their failures will hurt you. You will think about them morning, noon, and night and wonder if they’re eating right and getting enough sleep. Your students will become, somehow, yours.

4. You will see students (or at least think you will.)

Some student teachers opt for a school that is far, far away from where they live; they are not immune to this. You will see a student; every sip of beer at a hot wings joint, every time you flip someone off in traffic, or every time you go to the store in a hoodie and sweatpants like a zombie. You will panic and look around you at the hundreds of ways you aren’t being a pillar of morality. Most of the time, it won’t actually be a student, just a figment of your overactive imagination. When hanging out with other student teachers, at least once an hour one of you will duck saying “oh god I thought that was…oh wait he’s in Jamaica all week never mind.” Your students will become the most important people in your life and therefore you will see them everywhere. On the off-chance it is actually a flesh-and-blood student, wave, smile, and just be real; your students will like it.

5. You will adopt a different vocabulary, new and old.

Phrases will come out of your mouth you haven’t heard in 6 years, phrases will come out of your mouth that were invented 6 minutes ago. You will use “ain’t” more often that you ever thought you would in a professional setting. Speaking to kids means speaking their language. If “thirsty” replaces “lovelorn” in a lesson plan, you’re golden. The students you will interact with are rarely “dumb” kids, they are just working with a widely different set of words than you might be using. Don’t fight it, lean into it.

On the other hand, gems such as “I can wait for you to be quiet,” or “it’s your time you’re wasting,” will fall out of your mouth before you have a chance to catch it. You will run cold, thinking that you promised yourself you were never going to use those phrases; that you were better than the teachers that used those phrases. Again, lean into it. These phrases are repeated because, at the end of the day, they work.

The key is to strike a balance. The teachers you hated in school used the phrases to silence, shame, and subdue; you can do better. So get turnt, get groovy, and work with everything you have.

6. Your CT is an actual, breathing person.

This seems like common sense, agreed. But, it is important to remember that your CT is a person. CT’s do not get picked because they are the best teachers, or the best people; they are picked because they checked “yes” on a form one time. This act is a feat in and of itself; could you imagine giving up your classroom for half a year to some tie-wearing punk that thinks he knows everything? You and your CT may be the best of friends and have opposite educational philosophies, or vice-versa. You are not just working with another professional in some hypothetical head-space where only the weight of your pedagogical knowledge is key. Your CT will have been teaching in a classroom for years and you need to respect that. Much like students, classrooms, and every other aspect of student teaching, your CT could have a multitude of different attitudes towards the CT/ST relationship. He or she might seem cold to you if you’re used to a bubblier atmosphere. They might want to eat lunch alone every day. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you’re not placed in a classroom to cultivate a friendship; you’re placed in a classroom to practice teaching. Some CT’s will want to be a huge resource and mentor for you, that is fine too. Either way, roll with the punches, and maybe buy your CT a cup of coffee every now and then, wouldn’t you appreciate it?

7. You will age significantly.

Do not ask your students how old they think you are. They will tell you 30. You will go home, look in the mirror and wonder how it came to this. You get carded at the bar and told you’re an old maid the next day. (Not that 30 is old, but at 23 that seems far off!) Not only will your students think you’re much older, but you will start to feel that much older. Along with going to bed earlier (see #1) and feeling parental (see #3), you will feel that subtle, creeping transition of adulthood. You realize that you cannot “college” anymore: you can’t cram for projects; you can’t go out on a school night, you can’t drink as much as you could and be fine the next morning. That first time you teach with a hangover is the stuff of adult nightmares. In a few short weeks, you quickly yet inconspicuously begin to re-prioritize your life. Eventually, what feels like sacrifices will end and the more mature decisions will persevere.

8. You will bomb and succeed every day.

We live in a culture of winners/losers, black/white, right/wrong. The human tendency to split things into binaries is tough to break from. If you view your student teaching experience like this, chances are you will flounder and get bogged down in the nonsense. Don’t chalk up each day to a win or a loss because, more often than not, you’ll feel like a loser. Missed opportunities, misspoken directions, and failed assessments are a daily occurrence; as are “lightbulb moments” (where a student grasps a concept), nailing a lesson, and seeing personal growth in your kids. Your student teaching experience is a pile of good things and bad things, but every “thing” in that pile is valuable. As the old phrase goes (see #5) “you win some, you lose some.” Learning from mistakes and moving on is important; give yourself the space to take a wrong turn. Wouldn’t you give the same opportunity to your students?

9. Your experience will not be the movies.

This seems like common sense again, but your student teaching experience is not Freedom Writers, it is not Stand and Deliver, it is not Dead Poet’s Society. If your students want to stand on a desk and salute you, more power to you! Leave the cheesy clichés, the worn out lines, and romanticized notions at home; they will do you no good in a real classroom. Your students are not two-dimensional plot points, they are people. Watching those movies and relishing in the differences those teachers are making is fine. But if teaching was as easy and formulaic as feel-good movie scripts are, it wouldn’t be considered an art, or craft. Strive to foster those connections, and touch the lives of the young adults surrounding you; that power is within you and limitless. However, if you walk into your class ready to Hillary Swank-it up all over the place, prepare to be wildly disappointed.

10. You will cry when you leave.

At the end of a few short weeks, you are going to miss those little buggers. It will happen. You will wonder how your class can possibly go on without you standing at the helm and creating lessons; but it can, and will. You will look at all the stuff left to do and realize you won’t be there to do it with them. Some of your students will be sad to see you go; some of them will thank whatever higher power they believe in you’re leaving. Whatever the case may be, there will be hugs, tears, and you won’t believe the experience is over. No one, including your CT and your supervisor, will prepare you for the levels of deep sadness you’ll feel at the end. Teaching is profession built on interpersonal relationships, and when those relationships are drawing to a close, it is hard. Very hard.

But that is at the end! Enjoy the time you have with your students. Be prepared to buy a few Kit Kat bribes and maybe, just maybe, change a life. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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