Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections on student teaching and mentoring

Randon, the student teacher Kristin Leclaire and I have this semester, has made it through the half way point. He surely deserves a party after putting up with the two of us! I wanted to take some time to reflect on the process of being a mentor and the growth and changes I have seen in Randon. Randon already spent some time reflecting on his half way point.

I remember meeting Randon at NCTE when Kristin and I were presenting about some of the changes we had made in our classroom here at AHS. Randon attended both this session and one that I did with Karl Fisch. His excitement and interest in what we were implementing was infectious. It was so good to hear him talk about the passion he had for learning and his willingness to jump right in and try new things.

Kristin and I sent Randon a care package of AHS supplies after our visit, in hopes to get him mentally prepared for the quest he was about to undertake. Lesson plan books, books to teach, AHS apparel, and other knick-knacks were all sent away to Minnesota.

He arrived a little early for student teaching giving KK and I time to introduce Randon to our friends so that he knew some people and didn’t have to solely rely on KK and myself. We thought this was one of the most important aspects of him being our student teacher is that we wanted him to go out and visit with a number of teachers here at AHS. We still encourage him to do this because it seems for too often in education, teaching gets in the way of learning and reflecting. We get so caught up in the day to day survival that we often forget time to seek out others and learn from them. We wanted to instill this in Randon from day one.

Interestingly, when we asked others to give Randon a tip about student teaching with KK and I, most would laugh or chuckle, and say “Good Luck.” Others commented “Don’t let them down” or “Change the world.”” Take advantage of having these two as cooperative teachers.
Randon really began teaching from day one. Looking back, it was interesting to see how nervous he was. Was I that nervous on my first day? I think of the challenges he faced taking over our classrooms. These are students we have taught since the first day of the school year, some of these students picked us as teachers not knowing there was going to be a student teacher taking over the classroom, and mostly keeping up with the pace and expectations that AHS has. It was no easy challenge.

After the first lesson, and at the end of his first day, Randon and I started our afternoon debriefing sessions. I am not sure I ever took the time to really think about how these sessions were going to go. I didn’t really take notes as he was teaching, I more just sat back and listened. I guess similar to what KK wrote about, I was sitting in the back of the classroom seeing what learning looked like through the eyes of a student. I wish more teachers had this opportunity to sit back and observe as to what it is like being a student in their own classroom. I know there are teachers who leave the room when they have a student teacher, but I have truly enjoyed the time to reflect and mentor. And so I began with the same question which I continue to use today, “So, what did you think?” always ending our session with “what’s your takeaway?” Most of our sessions are more reflective than anything else. I guess I never wanted to be the answerer of his questions, but give him the space and time to reflect and seek out his own answers. I wanted to have him figure out why something didn’t go as intended and praise himself (intrinsic motivation) when something really went beyond his expectations.

It took awhile but Randon is getting there. We don’t seem to have as much time for our afternoon sessions as my other students have writing conferences and Randon is coaching soccer, but I still look forward to hearing him talk about the day. What did he take away? What went well? What would he do differently?

I want to make sure though that Randon realizes how much he has changed as a teacher and as a learner.

Think back Randon to that first day, or even that first week. Think about how you approached your first class and your first student interactions. Do you remember the students high fiving you in the hallway? Are you still as passionate to see them now as they were to see you? Do you remember taking over my English Literature classes when I had to leave and you taught all my classes? Do you remember embracing that challenge and walking away successful and learning from the experience? Do you remember planning your first unit? Do you remember teaching the kids to write thesis statements and structure to their paragraphs? They will always remember it was you who taught them; hold onto that memory? Do you remember the passion and fire with which you began your student teaching? Do you remember how tough it is at times to hold onto that? Do you remember the kids trying to figure out who you are and what they would learn from you? Do you remember when I told you that you were born to be a teacher and that you are a natural? Don’t ever forget that. Do you remember how we talked about brick walls? I will never forget your crayon lesson to me. Do you remember the worst day you have had in teaching? Do you remember the best day? I would hope your best days always outweigh your worst days.

Randon- I have told you many times I am not one who gives out false praise, so this comes from my heart. You are on a great journey. Do not forget to ever stop learning and being a learner in your own classroom. When we think we know it all in teaching, we are failing our students and ourselves. Remain passionate about learning, reflecting, and teaching. There are many days where I watch you do great things and I see the possibilities of your future. Do not forget to reflect upon the good and bad always growing from the opportunities. Most of all, remember even though you will one day be done student teaching, Kristin and I are always here. We will always be here to mentor, to advise and mostly to support your growth. We are so proud of all you have done and all you continue to do. Remember that it is ok to make mistakes and to learn from them. Being open to change and possibilities is what will make you a great teacher.

You have changed me as a teacher because of the opportunity to sit back and reflect, to learn what it is like to be a student in my own classroom. You have given me the opportunity to grow and reflect as a mentor. You have helped me get through this tough time of balancing teaching, grad school, and my family. Thank you, Randon. Thank you for all that you have done. I couldn’t do all this without you.

Now, I couldn’t leave this reflection without a challenge going forward: Never forget your passion. Never forget why you got into teaching. Never forget that you are always a learner- you have as much to learn from the students as they have to learn from you. And never forget to change the world.

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