Throughout my career I had quite a few student teachers--including one very early in my career, a time when I had no business supervising someone (it was, I think, just my second year in the classroom). I never really had a problem with any of them--in fact, most of them were better prepared for the job than I had been back in the winter of 1966. Sure, they all had various weaknesses--and strengths (as all of us do)--but no serious problems at all. One young woman, though, surprised me when we were doing Shakespeare when she said she'd never known that West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet. She said this to me with such candor--and even enthusiasm (she was excited to know this)--that I didn't have the heart to say aloud what my mind was screaming.
I knew, also, that I would never do to a young person what CT had done to me. And so I stayed in the room a lot (every period for the first few weeks), giving feedback every free period, at the end of every day (trying to be encouraging, giving suggestions, trying to build confidence). Gradually, I would surrender the classes, but I very rarely stayed out the entire day. One thing was kind of funny: The kids were always kind of eager (especially later, when I was, you know, old) to be in the room alone with the fresh young face instead of with the withered old face. (You develop a thick skin, teaching middle school.) But after a bit, they were always (usually? sometimes?) ready to have me back.
Here's a little sample of the sort of feedback I'd give a student teacher each day or two. I've changed any details that might reveal an identity ...
Each week—at least once—I’ll give you some formal, written comments in this format. It’ll give both of us a record of my thoughts about your progress, and it will help you, I think, to focus on various things throughout your experience here at Harmon.
• First of all. welcome to the school. I really am happy to have you here and am confident that you will be a fine teacher with a long, productive career.
• During this first week you’ve already begun to “loosen up” and to show some of your strengths to the kids—e.g., your sense of humor, your intelligence and wit, and your obvious desire to like them (and to be liked by them). I would encourage you to continue to move among the kids when you teach (as I suggested yesterday)—and during homeroom time, too. I know you probably don’t feel too sure yet that this is your room, too—but it is, and as you move among the kids during unstructured time—talking with them, listening to them—you really get to know them better; they get to know you better; and as a result the whole classroom climate will improve.
• Have you ever been more tired? I remember the feeling from my own student teaching: Never had I worked so hard. been so emotionally drained. It’s not that the actual work that’s so difficult (try to explain this to a laborer!), but it’s just the constant tension and pressure that close contact with people (people you’re responsible for) that drains you Anyway, as tired as I know you are, I think you need to get here just a little earlier . . . you need to have time to set up the room for homeroom, make adjustments to things on the board, go over things with me (if you need to). Can you make it by 7:15? That, I think, would give you time to get things done without feeling too rushed.
• I thought your myths presentation went better and better as you seemed more and more sure just what it was that you wanted to accomplish with them. I forgot to remind you not to just go around the room in a regular reading pattern….. If your pattern is too regular, then kids far down the line just “zone out” because they know they don’t need to pay attention for a while. You can tell this is the case because kids ask “Where are we?” when their tum arrives! On the other hand, getting volunteers for reading aloud is a problem that is always more difficult in the fall when they are in different classes with different kids and with different teachers. So even experienced (elderly!) teachers have to work at this at the beginning of each year.
• In a discussion, don’t be too alarmed by silence. (6th period you can be grateful for it!) What I mean is this: When you ask a question and don’t receive an immediate answer, don’t assume that your question was not clear enough. Sometimes—often even—it’s just that the kids are thinking. If you provide an answer too quickly—or too quickly give them “hints”—then they cease thinking when you ask questions and just wait for the answers or hints. Also, answering a thought-provoking question is not like answering a right-and-wrong factual question: It requires venturesome behavior from the kids, and this can be daunting for them—especially at this time of the year when they’re very concerned about their images, status with peers, etc.
• I try not to bring food/drink into the class. (Sometimes my caffeine addiction dominates, and you’ll see me with coffee. Bad boy!) Anyway, my experience is that in the long run the kids resent my having a drink or something when they’re not allowed to. Kids have a highly developed sense of fairness (it’s not always correct. but it’s highly developed!), and a teacher walking around with a cold drink on a hot afternoon sets their Fairness Meters in motion.
• Re: 6th period. Remember what I told you another time: EVERY teacher has disciplinary situations to deal with; every teacher has tough classes, tough periods, tough days. Sixth period last year, in fact, drove me nuts for months. It wasn’t, really, until after Christmas that I felt they were with me. What we need to do is what you started to do yesterday: Identify the sources of the problem and correct them. It may seem, at times, that it’s the entire class that’s being crazy, but it hardly ever is. So we have to work hard to make sure those kids who are doing what they’re supposed to are not suffering because of the others. I will continue to help you to the best of my ability. As I reflect on it, I probably should not have intervened so directly yesterday. I know that it was probably a relief to have those four guys gone for a few minutes . . . but the kids have to begin to see you as the authority-figure, and if I’m the one zapping them, then I’ve not really done you a favor in the long run.
• Well . . . enough You may not think so, but things are going well Things are normal And as you take more and more charge of what is done and how it’s done, you’re going to feel more and more satisfaction with your days—always realizing this: Some days, no matter what you do, no matter how brilliant and clever and witty you are, no matter what a wonderful. engaging lesson you’ve created, no matter what a great person you are . . . you will go home wishing you’d majored in aluminum siding. You will feel that when you’re student teaching: you will feel it [later in] your career (believe me).