So when I started this blog back in January, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to share all the things I learn about myself during student teaching!” Well, big surprise, student teaching turned out to be so time-consuming, that I hardly had the time to talk
to friends about the day-to-day lessons, never mind write about them here. But in order to wrap it all up, I’m going to compile the whole 12-weeks of planning, grading, laughter, tears, hours of driving, chipping ice off of my car, professional wardrobe issues, and self-discovery into a top 10 list.
1) You can never plan every little detail…
Throughout my education, I hated the idea of giving a presentation without having my material planned out word for word. Whenever I tried to rely on simple bullet points, I inevitably left out key details and felt like I gave a confusing and jumbled presentation. Boy, was I in for a shock! There is simply no way a teacher can anticipate everything that he or she will say in the course of the day. From discussions about my brother’s dating life during my first official observation by my education professor, to questions about whether or not grinding occurs at college dances, there were many moments where I had to give answers to tough questions. As the semester progressed and I had my complete load of three classes, it became even more difficult to feel like I had thoroughly planned the day. But I dealt with it, and came to realize that I really WAS capable of delivering content without a word-for-word presentation.
2) It’s ok to say “I don’t know”
Anyone who knows me well would definitely describe me as a history nerd. I embrace the title – if there was a crown or a sash to go along with it, I would wear it (though I think I would prefer a sceptre…it’s very historically royal). But as any historian would tell you, it is simply impossible to know everything about history. High schoolers can be very curious, and sometimes they ask very tough and specific questions, like when a certain canon was invented or what the population of Alaska is. (I legitimately heard these questions asked, no lie). But it’s ok to say I don’t know. But with that, a teacher must encourage that curiosity – it’s healthy to the development of a student.
3) It can always get worse
Day 12. I have an awesome lesson planned about the Tiananmen Square Massacre for my honors-level juniors, complete with a stellar powerpoint that has maps, images, and thought-provoking quotes from my friend’s parents who are Chinese immigrants and left China just a few years before the Massacre. I was stoked. But when I put my flashdrive in that morning to open it, the powerpoint is not there. The corresponding note sheet is not there. “Maybe the drive just isn’t working” I think, blaming it on the used, school-loaned computer. I hand it over to my cooperating teacher, panic setting in. Nope, not there – the computer isn’t even registering that there is a flashdrive plugged into it. Anyone can imagine the thoughts – and expletives – running through my head. But I had to teach. There was no time to cry, no time to freak out. I had to pull something together within an hour and a half before 3rd period waltzed in.
And that’s when the tiny voice said, “It could be worse.”
It could have been. I could have lost everything. I could have forgotten all of the material, or deleted the email with those quotes that served as a great discussion starter. I luckily had an older version of the powerpoint saved on my personal laptop back at Assumption, and my life-saver of a roommate was able to send it to me. The lesson I delivered that day wasn’t as good as it would have been. But it was good. It had depth. Sure, the images weren’t as great, but I did my job and kept it together for the sake of my students.
4) Don’t forget someone else’s perspective
History teachers are always aware of perspective. We must teach the victory in the Pacific theater of World War II very differently from the U.S. perspective in a U.S. history class from when we must show the horrors of the atomic bomb when we teach the Japanese perspective. But students have perspective too. Even though being a teenager feels like a lifetime ago sometimes, I realized that I can’t forget what it’s like and how complex life can be. I had some students dealing with tough stuff – health problems, friend drama, family dynamics. They are very multi-faceted individuals outside of my history classroom. So sometimes you have to work with that. And you must take the time to check in, to wish them well on that health test. At weekend mass, I prayed for my students. Sometimes life can really suck, and as a teacher who sees her students on a daily basis, I must act as a support and a comfort, not an antagonist who could care less about a student’s life like some teachers can be faulted for doing.
5) Be silly
I definitely tend to be nervous when I want to do my best. And I have always wanted to be a great teacher. As tense as I were those first few weeks, I learned that I had to loosen up in order to create the kind of classroom I wanted to. One moment that stands out to me is one of my first history jokes. We were studying reform movements and key figures. As students listed key figures from the reforms, they mentioned Horace Mann, whom many regard as the father of public education in America. I love him. He’s a Massachusetts guy and teachers today owe a lot to him. As I wrote his name on the board, I giggled, “Horace Mann – he’s the MAN” and laughed at myself. One girl, who was not the strongest in the class, laughed loudly and proclaimed, “Ms. Murphy, that was REALLY funny.” It made my day.
This should go without saying, but when you’re nervous, stressed, overtired, and trying to prepare yourself for the next class while you’re in the middle of teaching another one, it’s hard to remember that. By the second week, I realized I had to take the advice of classroom management guru, Dr. Diane Myers, at Assumption and stand outside the class, every day, and welcome the students. I noticed a difference immediately. It was simple – smile, say hi, ask how each is doing, compliment a cute Vera bag or a team spirit outfit. People will respect you all the more for it.
7) Be yourself
When you feel like your students are a little to close to your age for comfort, you want to be as professional as possible. But you have to be yourself too. Some of my girls in one of my freshmen classes loved when I had different nail polish on (one of my favorite quotes: “OhMyGod, CRACKLE!!!). Others asked about college. You still have to be professional, but you have to show them that you’re a real person too.
8) It’s all about community
I had the awesome privilege of completing my student teaching at the same high school I graduated from 4 years ago. I owe so much to the education I received there, and I still do a double take whenever I see a high school-age person wearing maroon and gold, thinking it could be someone from my high school. Throughout college, I’ve really committed to giving back to the community, and going back to “the Reg” to teach was an extension of that. Take the time to go back to those people and places that made you who you are and do something for them.
9) Even though it’s the 21st Century, it can still be tough to be a woman
He never stopped challenging me, especially when the principal was observing me teach. My supervising practitioner told me she thought it was a female teacher thing, since she had the same struggles with this student. But it still sucked. It was hard to keep calm. And it was frustrating knowing that somewhere along the line, this young male had had it ingrained in him that it was ok to be disrespectful to women. But it could have been worse – he just challenged me about the content and sometimes my methods, nothing else. I think you all know what I’m alluding to here. And maybe I will deal with that in the classroom. But I will do everything I can to create a culture of respect in my classroom, regardless of any personal qualifier.
10) Mentors are THE BEST
The AP US history teacher who is the one most responsible for me becoming the kind of teacher I want to be. The supervising practitioner whose love for history and dedication to teaching others how to teach made a lasting impact on me as I grew as a teacher. The college supervisor whose constant advice and support and lessons in teaching history were invaluable to my success. The content advisor who showed true pride when he observed me teach, sharing with me the life-long goal that he had helped me prepare for since he became my academic advisor freshman year. The thesis advisor who took the time to ask about teaching and offer wisdom applicable to educators at all levels. The roommates who supported me through the challenges and laughed with me at the faux pas. The girlfriends back home who’ve known me since elementary school, who shared my joy in doing what I’ve always wanted to. The friends who calmed me down the night before my first lesson, checked in regularly, and supported me and loved me even when the extreme stress made me not always act like myself. No matter how old, how experienced, or how overwhelmed, mentors are the best resource anyone can ever have.
I have a job. I have a Massachusetts Educator License. In August, I will begin my teaching career and finally living out my passion. Thank you to everyone who supported me, everyone who cared, and everyone who helped me to get here. I will always try to make you proud!