Student teaching midpoint

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Those of you who know me know that I am student teaching in Chicago this semester. While I go to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa I am to student-teach in Chicago through ACM’s Urban Education program. Getting into this program was a dream I had since I was a freshman in college and I’ve been lucky to have been given an incredible placement.

I teach English 4 regular (high school seniors) at a school on the South side of Chicago. My department team is full of experienced and helpful people. And most importantly my mentor teacher gives me the help and freedom I need to grow as a teacher.

In my head, I planned on blogging every 1-2 weeks about my teaching experiences but between all the lesson planning, grading, weekly reflections, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and general unwillingness to make time it.. not much has been shared. Now that I’m over halfway through with my student teaching (5 weeks left!) I figured now would be a good time to reflect on some things in a more public setting. Here are some big picture take-aways from my time student teaching:

I actually know some things
As soon as I met my mentor teacher she told me I’d spend the first 2 weeks getting to know the school and lesson planning, then I’d get to meet the class and teach a bit (1 week), then I’d have full take over. I marked the Monday I would start teaching on my calendar and stared at it in fear.

Sitting down to map out a unit was overwhelming. I literally had no idea how to make a lesson. To be honest, my college focusses a lot more on discussing teaching/education than giving us time to practice the “practical skills” we’d be needing–in comparison to other colleges. So I went back to my EDU methods classes and opened up some folders on my laptop. I read through my lessons with a sigh of relief: “Right! That’s how you do these. OKAY.”

Just like that I began writing lessons and my first week of teaching went great. Still, I was worried about how I’d possibly come up with lessons on a day-by-day basis. I was given so much time to create those first 5-10 plans… now what?

I swapped out my detailed by the book lesson templates for a more practical weekly framework. I’d run my lessons by my mentor and she helped me strengthen them. Or she gave me a suggestion on things I could teach and I’d run with it.

Soon enough I started building more and more on what I already knew. Now my students have experienced a wide range of activities: documentary screenings, philosophical chairs, guest lectures, drawing on butcher paper, around-the-world quote dissection, 4 corners, and seated musical chairs.

At this point, my anxiety is an irrational fear I swat away. I’ve always been this way when it comes to performing/putting myself out there in a crowd. I have all this nervousness but when I get up there I’m completely comfortable. There is always so much work to be done but something about teaching comes very naturally to me.

We are so quick to voice our fears and negative self-talk, but we are so quiet about our strengths. I am always pushing myself to rewrite that narrative.

Which brings me to my next point.

Nothing is as hard as it is in my head
Which is to say it always seems impossible until it’s done.

Don’t feel guilty over trying to be healthy
I recently had a week where I felt uninspired in the classroom. Teaching is so much fun in the moment but I just felt “meh.”

During my first week my teacher told me “the best advise my mentor gave was “it’s okay to have a bad day… and when you teach you’re gonna have bad days.”

It’s hard for me because I truly put teaching on a pedestal. These are people’s kids and I’m responsible for their learning. But in order to be good at my job I need to take care of myself. So I’ve stopped trying to grade during the week and have focussed on having good lessons. I’ve started to really push myself to make time for me: coloring, playing video games, exercising, eating well, practicing the ukulele, having a beer, cleaning my room, reading, etc.

But these things easily go the wayside when its the week and I’m tired and I just want to sleep. That’s why I’ve started doing self-care sundays: where I make sure I make time for me. Two weeks ago I spent it in my gym’s hot tub and then grabbed a beer at a place I’d been meaning to check out. Last week, I ran a race and ate breakfast with my family.

Some of my peers always seem like they’re working and pull all-nighters grading and planning. To me, that used to be the hallmark of success. But now, putting my anxiety to the side and going for a walk is when I know I’ve made it.

One thing at a time
One Course At A Time instilled this in me and I’ve carried it with me since. It takes time to be a good teacher and I know I’m not there yet. So I focus on the little things I need to work on. First it was remembering to take attendance, then it was making sure I was always prepared to teach my visually impaired student, next it will be making more of an effort to reach out to D/F students, their parents, their counselors, and their teachers.

My behavior management style is building rapport and treating lives

I love my students. In general, I can relate to most people on SOME level because I have a pretty diverse amount of interests/experiences. While I have to keep my tangents in check, I love to chit-chat with students about their lives at the start or end of class. And when I get the opportunity or when they’re getting fussy, I treat their lives with a joke or derisive comment.

It sounds mean, maybe even inappropriate, but this is a big part of Chicagoan/PoC culture–good natured ribbing. Quick wit is both an attack mechanism and a way of bonding. It’s a way for me to call kids out but in a way that can be light hearted.

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one of my classrooms

There’s no way I can do this for my entire life…

Teaching is so multifaceted and exhausting. You have to make lesson plans, buy materials, be creative, instruct, talk to counselors, grade, return work, reach out to kids one on one, call parents, go to meetings and the list goes on. It’s no wonder some teachers just phone it in.

I have so many interests I’ve always felt like I can’t commit to just one. So I definitely want to make several career shifts, perhaps moving around in the general education field (ex. teacher, counselor, museum educator). But mainly I just know there’s no way I have the stamina for this long term.

…But I’m not sure anything can ever fulfill me this much
This week was very light for me. We had two days off, college counselors came in, kids went to the college/career center, and we had an exam. I basically had no instructing to do this week. I was so excited for that but I really started to miss doing lessons. I got bored sitting behind my desk.

As mentally/emotionally exhausting as teaching is, the rewards is so incredible. I love interacting with high school students every day: getting to know their interests, their dreams, and seeing their progress. I love entering grades and watching a students letter go up. I love getting new perspectives. I love seeing a kid completely get the content. I love when my students enjoy the lesson.

One of my F/D students wrote an analysis of Kanye West’s crack music and it was so well done. Her work blew me away and it was the highlight of my student teaching if not my entire year. Because even though she did the work, the fact that I created the assignment and provided those song lyrics as an option gave her a space to interact with pop culture on a critical level.

And that’s all I want to do: give students that space… create a context for learning.

Teaching takes so much out of me but what it gives back leaves me speechless. It’s a happiness nothing else has ever given me.

So here I am with 5 weeks left: simultaneously counting down the days but enjoying every second.

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