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How to make the most of your student teacher

Having a student teacher in your classroom is a unique teaching opportunity that can offer lasting rewards. That’s why we’ve compiled six suggestions to help navigate this professional dynamic and ensure it’s a wonderful learning experience for both you and your student teacher.

Include them in everything 

The more they know, the more they can help you with, so keep your student teacher in the loop about any and all things teaching. By allowing them to do more, you give your student teacher a greater opportunity to grow—with you and your experience as a safety net. Encourage your student teacher to jump right in. Don’t be afraid to include them in communications with parents or issues with struggling students. Once they get to know your students on an individual basis, their input and assistance can provide a new perspective (and take some tasks off your plate). Be sure to help your student teacher come out of their shell. This will not only help them experience all student teaching has to offer, but also helps you by creating a more engaged and proactive temporary teaching partner.

Try new things

Take the opportunity of having a student teacher—and that extra set of hands—in your room to explore new things you’ve been wanting to try. Think about all of the lesson plans, techniques, methodologies, technologies, etc. you’re curious about but have been hesitant to implement and go for it! Student teachers are usually eager to put all the wonderful things they’ve been learning into practice, plus many of them have a good handle on emerging technologies. Use that to your advantage. Who knows, maybe you can even learn a thing or two? And even if everything you try isn’t a smashing success, some of it probably will be—and whatever isn’t will still make for a teachable moment. Sometimes the best opportunities for learning stem from failure, while your new-found successes serve as encouragement for trying even more new things in the future.

Create a feedback loop

Part of being a mentor teacher is providing your student teacher with feedback and constructive criticism. Be sure to take advantage of their presence by asking for the same in return. After all, no one (other than your students) will have observed you in the classroom more than your student teacher. Obviously, their insights might be shaded by their lack of experience, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have some valuable feedback to share. They’re called blind spots for a reason, so take advantage of the extra set of eyes to help you find yours. Your student teacher might even have some suggestions for addressing them, so be open and don’t let your experience get in the way of your own growth. After all, it’s much easier to receive feedback from someone who is open to it themselves. Treating your student teacher as a peer (as much as possible) will go a long way in creating a relationship dynamic that’s beneficial for both of you.

Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with tasks that you’re too overwhelmed to complete, aren’t your favorite or simply don’t need to be completed by you—such as creating an organizational system for your classroom, if yours isn’t working or grading the latest pop quiz if you’re strapped for time. While things like making copies and setting up bulletin boards may seem like menial tasks, they can actually provide your student teacher with a chance to explore additional aspects of what it takes to be an educator. If you ask your student teacher to pick up your mail, for example, encourage them to get to know the office staff while they’re down there. This is especially valuable if they want to work at your school in the future. Figuring out how long these kinds of tasks take, the best ways to do them and the etiquette surrounding them isn’t something that’s taught in school. Of course, it helps if you spell out this beyond-the-classroom learning opportunity to your student teacher ahead of time, so they go into it with an open mind and see the value in what they’re doing. 

Get some breathing room

As a host teacher, there will inevitably be times when you need a moment to yourself. That’s why it’s important to recommend your student teacher talk with other teachers and specialists at your school when the semester begins. Shadowing and observing a variety of educators throughout the semester will not only allow your student teacher to get a better feel for a wider range of teaching styles, but also allow you some time to yourself, if you need some space. Remind your student teacher that now is the time to soak up as much as they can. After all, once they start teaching full time they’ll never have an opportunity to observe as much as they do now. Plus, they might be surprised how much they can learn from teachers of different grades or subjects. Also advise them to get to know the specialists at your school to gain a different perspective. 

Bolster your documentation

Have your student teacher document what’s going on—both in and out of the classroom. Making a record of everything, including lesson plans, worksheets and bulletin boards, as well as field trips, team meetings and other events will be beneficial for both of you. It’s a great way for you and your student teacher to review things each of you found to be especially successful (or not) and discuss what made them that way. This extensive documentation will also help your student teacher retain all that’s going on around them, because it’s a whirlwind of input from every direction—and the better able they are to absorb everything, the more helpful they’ll be in the classroom. Dubbing your student teacher class documentarian will be invaluable for you in keeping up with your own teaching portfolio throughout the year, too.

Of course, these aren’t the only ways to make the most of having a student teacher by your side all semester. If you’re an educator who has already mentored a student teacher, we’d love to hear from you. Share your tips for turning this mentorship into a mutually beneficial relationship on Twitter by using #busedu and tagging @StartHereGoPlcs.