Picture this: You’re standing in front of your class. It’s the first time you’re teaching as a student teacher in a real classroom. Students are somewhat paying attention, but they are distracted by other classmates. You’re trying to refocus them on the lesson, but you don’t want to yell at them. You’re getting frustrated, but you don’t want your first day to involve snapping at students.

What do you do?

From Rush Henrietta Senior High School, it’s Mr. Kostka reporting this week for GR!S. I wanted to report about the demos upon demos my student teacher has let me conduct in class. I wanted to talk about how brilliant (and fun, of course) my cooperating teacher, Chris Young, is at teaching. I wanted to talk about how much I love the culture of the school at which I have started teaching. And I’m sure I will. But I will never again have the opportunity to talk about something as formative and important as what I experienced this week:

A student teacher’s first day “on the job”.

Within the next few weeks, GR!S is implementing a mini-unit, a series of three to five lessons, embedded within one of the units at our student teaching placements. We’ll be in charge. At the helm. Steering the boat.

These classrooms will be “ours” for the duration of this series of lessons.

We are, in essence, being thrown into the deep end wearing floaties; we are “jumping” right in to the culture, politics, and classroom environment, but we still have the necessary supports in place to ensure we don’t drown. That’s the core of student teaching – showing future teachers how to ditch the floaties and swim on our own!

Chris, my student teacher, has been instrumental in making sure I learn to swim. I taught my very first lesson on Friday, and I will be the first to admit that my first time teaching was a bit of a “belly flop”. I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t know how to address class “clowns” that were off task, and I stumbled over my words despite my immense content preparation.

Here are a few of the “Chris”isms that helped me to get over my lack of assurance in myself:

  1. Take a deep breath before approaching students who are clowning around. It can be nerve-racking to be a new student teacher; students treat you like the “substitute teacher”. This can be incredibly frustrating; taking a deep breath before engaging with students to get them back on task is immensely helpful so you don’t lose your cool.
  2. Asking “why?” without enough information can be intimidating. As science educators, we strive to get our students thinking beyond the scope of the classroom. However, without a solid foundation of the content, we cannot expect our students to think abstractly about the subject material. They can’t think about how potential energy changes as atoms separate if they don’t understand what potential energy is more generally. Providing access into the content before asking these kinds of questions builds the foundational knowledge students need to develop the inquiry practices we strive to include in our lessons.
  3. Walking through examples empowers students to solve other problems. Modeling how to solve problems helps build confidence. I have been struggling with this; I have wanted students to understand content and develop the problem-solving strategies themselves. However, without proper modeling of how to solve problems, students can often feel confused. Giving examples and talking through how to solve problems (while inviting student input) develops the sense of empowerment to bridge those strategies into other contexts.
  4. It’s okay to give orders! Don’t be afraid to be firm with students. While yelling is not always a good idea, it is important to remain firm with students so they know they have to respect you, especially when you ask them to do something.
  5. Find specific opportunities to connect with students. Of course, it is important to develop rapport with students. However, we must find the correct times and places to do this. Talking with students during individual work time can model that off-task conversations are okay, which is the opposite message we want to send. Perfectly on-task engagement is not always necessary; however, we must be cognizant that even unintentional actions can model behaviors for our students, whether that message is positively or negatively in our favor.

Of course, as time progresses, teachers feel more comfortable in the classroom environment. It has been stated colloquially that teachers only feel confident in their teaching abilities after spending 5 years in the field. As student teachers (and as teachers), it is important to be transparent that we are not going to teach perfectly from the start, or even during our third time teaching the exact same lesson the exact same day. As long as we are eager to learn more, to try new things, and to persist with a positive attitude, there is little we cannot accomplish.