This post is part of a series on #summerPD.
This week, I interviewed one of my favorite bloggers, Kelsey Empfield, about her recent experiences as a teacher intern. After a stellar teaching demonstration, she was offered a position as a middle-school reading teacher. She’ll be starting that first teaching job this fall.
Kelsey and Maggie with some of their NCTE swag
What was the best thing about student teaching?
I loved the opportunity to finally get into the classroom. It was a monumental moment when I realized that the students whom I’ve been thinking about for years were actually in front of me – live, breathing adolescents.
What was the most challenging thing?
There were things I didn’t like and I knew weren’t effective. But I did it anyway.
It was also difficult to accept my role as student teacher. I was given bread crumbs of freedom and I could see potential in the classrooms, but I wasn’t given the open line of communication to voice my thoughts. The times when I made the decisions were bittersweet; I could do wonderful things, but I knew it was only temporary.
It was discouraging to try to be creative with the curriculum I was given for several reasons. First, it took so much time. Making hands-on grammar activities was time-consuming, and realizing I would not be compensated for my time (for any of my time) was not motivating. Secondly, my cooperating teacher did not acknowledge the different approach to the lessons; I was trying different methods, but I wasn’t getting feedback. The students hated grammar no matter what we did – it was a decision they already made due to years of formal grammar instruction.
And finally, I knew it wouldn’t really matter in the long run. I realize this is a pessimistic view, but I still feel this way even weeks later. The few lessons I taught my way would not really matter because once I left my cooperating teacher would resume teaching her classes how she always has.
What surprised you least about student teaching?
Going into student teaching, I knew that I would be more student than teacher. Although my cooperating teachers relinquished some control, I was not given the freedom to make many decisions, a fact that did not surprise me.
What surprised you most?
I was not prepared for the students to be so mean to each other. Many times in class the students would lash out at each other, name calling and nagging. Although I tried my best to take preventative measures and to address the issue, it never stopped. Despite using my five methods to quell inappropriateness, it still occurred. All grades, 7-12 exemplified this issue over and over.
Teachers cannot control students, especially when nasty comments suddenly slip from their lips, but in my classroom this is something that I will not tolerate. I will strive to create a community of readers, writers, learners, and supporters. Unfortunately, I could not undo the community that was already established during student teaching.
What do you wish you had known about yourself, your students, your content, or teaching in general before you started?
I wish I would have known that students exist outside of the classroom. And sometimes that life outside of the classroom isn’t so good. Somehow I wish I could’ve counteracted that to make their time at school even better than it was. I wish I would have known that students would undermine me so I would not be surprised when it happened.
I wish I would have known that there would be times when I was confused and that the confusion is okay. I wish I would have known it was okay to ask more questions.
If you could get pre-service English teachers to read just one book, blog, or article before they start teaching, what would it be?
The Greatest Catch by Penny Kittle is a must-read. Teaching can be discouraging, heart-breaking, and disappointing, but it can also be rewarding, wonderful and fulfilling. Teaching is good, except for when it isn’t.
What piece of advice would you give to student teachers?
You can do anything in 16 weeks. No matter how good or bad your placement, school, or cooperating teachers, it will soon come to an end. Take the time to build relationships and make connections, and remember that YOU are the only thing you can control.