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Two Take-Aways from Mentoring my Student Teacher

Next week I get my students back. For 12 weeks I’ve had Joseph as a student teacher, and I’ve come to really miss my kids. It’s an exciting time.

I am hoping I get my writing mojo back, too. I’ve struggled with topics to write about since I haven’t been working with my students day to day. One of my favorite parts about being a reflective practitioner is my itching need to think about, write, and share my experiences in the classroom. Thanks for reading this writing.

This is the fourth student teacher I’ve mentored. It is the first time I’ve given up control. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned how. Maybe it’s because Joseph is just that awesome at stepping into the role of teacher. It’s probably Joseph. I have learned a lot from Joseph over the past several weeks, and I’ve learned a lot about my teaching practice as I have become the observer.

In every aspect of my practice, I have become more purposeful. When I return to my classroom next week, I will be sharper, more intentional in my planning and instruction, and how I interact with my students day to day.

Here’s two top take aways — and why I think every teacher, especially teachers who practice a workshop pedagogy — should offer to mentor a preservice teacher eager to enter our discipline and our profession:

Perception changes everything. My first conversation with Joseph was in the fall. He spent several weeks during the semester observing my classes two days a week. After his first visit he said something like this:  “That was unlike any English class I’ve ever been in. I was always bored in English. I didn’t know a class could look like this.”

Don’t most new teachers step into their roles and teach the way they were taught?

I did. I assigned writing with prompts and due dates instead of teaching writing with mentors and modeling. I pulled out the textbook, assigned a lead weight book to every student, used the suggested lesson ideas and the questions for guided discussion and the activities in each chapter. I chose every novel for the whole class, torturing children with booklets of questions to “aid their understanding” or dialectical journals to “write their thinking” for the complex texts I chose. The students I taught year one certainly still dream about Dickens, and quizzes about characters and setting and plot. I was a nightmare.

Joseph conferring

Conferring with readers during independent reading time.

New teachers have to believe there is a better way. I know some university education programs prepare students for choice and workshop. (Shana was blessed at the University of Miami with the likes of Tom Romano for a professor.) But many programs do not come close to preparing students for the realities of teaching, much less the research-based practices of readers-writers workshop.

Experienced workshop teachers can change that one student teacher at a time.

Research-based Practices in Reading and Writing Instruction. Even more than usual, I’ve turned to research to back up and refine my thinking. I’ve studied Lou LaBrant thanks to Dr. Paul Thomas and his blog. I’ve read more blogs by thoughtful educators like Tricia Ebaria and books by teacher leaders who inspire great ideas — favorite faithfuls like Penny Kittle’s Book Love and Write Beside Them, and I have re-read conference notes and remembered the why and the how of this pedagogy called readers-writers workshop.

I’ve been able to support my thinking with research, and I’ve learned through my reading the importance of validating that research. Research is important to the choices I make in my classroom.

My confidence grows as I read the work of people who are smarter than me and usually more experienced. I nod along, making notes in the margins, get giddy when I think “I do that.” And as my confidence grows, I am more apt to take risks. When I take risks, my students are more likely to take risks. Risks are exciting in a writing class where we celebrate the process over the product. We go on the journey of discovery together.

Sharing this research with Joseph is like a backpack of confidence. Depending on where he lands as a teacher, and the input and control of administration, he may need it to back up his workshop approach to teaching readers and writers. Knowing Joseph will begin his career with evidence-based practices may take away some of the other frightening struggles of first year teaching. I hope so.

I look forward to seeing Joseph step into a classroom of his own. His students will be lucky ones.

What advice can you give Joseph as he steps into his career in English education? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She also facilitates professional development for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

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8 thoughts on “Two Take-Aways from Mentoring my Student Teacher

  1. […] If you’ve been following my posts lately, you know I’ve had a hard time. I loved my student teacher, but I missed my students and how they inspire me to want to write and […]

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  2. Erika B. May 3, 2017 at 4:26 pm Reply

    Joseph – We’re human. We make mistakes. Don’t ever be hesitant or afraid to apologize to students. These ties bond us…students recognize authenticity. And, to me, nothing says ‘authentic’ like a down-and-out apology. Wishing you much success!

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  3. Shana Karnes May 1, 2017 at 5:49 am Reply

    Love this, Amy!!

    Joseph–always remember to keep your classroom one that you look at in wonder, and one in which students will say, “I never knew an English class could look like this.”

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  4. […] I believe in our future teachers.  After an entire school year of working with preservice educators, I have seen so much energy, excitement, and engagement from every single one of my students. […]

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  5. Lisa Dennis April 25, 2017 at 9:56 am Reply

    “New teachers have to believe there is a better way.” I LOVE IT! All teachers have to believe there is a better way…it’s what led me to you! 😍

    Joseph – Be kind to yourself, reflective of your practice, open and honest with your students, always have a mentor (no matter how long you have been teaching), be willing to grow, ask for help, and have lots and lots of fun.

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  6. Smith-Chavira Terri April 25, 2017 at 8:33 am Reply

    Expand your beginnings and read professionally ~ yes, research those who go before us or are still going with us. BUILD RELATIONS ~ YES, a community! Reflect as a teacher and reflect as a student because when you listen to them you do learn! Beware! Not everyone “understands workshop” thinking so you may have to go it alone on campus! BUT thank the lord you can connect in a wider community of teachers who know the status quo of much of the past ELAR canon is DEAD,DEAD, DEAD! You have Amy who is a gift!

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  7. Pat Delzell April 25, 2017 at 7:26 am Reply

    Read “Backtalk”…it will save you much mental anguish.

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  8. Amy Estersohn April 25, 2017 at 6:54 am Reply

    My advice to my former self:

    You’re going to spend a while imitating the teachers you admire. Only your imitation will be the lite skim milk ripoff of Experienced Mentor Teacher.

    Give yourself time and opportunity to figure out your own way of doing things. Don’t always think it has to look the same as somebody else’s classroom work.

    Liked by 1 person

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